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BC Premier David Eby’s promises illusions on health-care fixes



BC Premier David Eby’s promises illusions on health-care fixes

Vaughn Palmer: Promised by the NDP to open in 2023, the new SFU medical school is now expected to open in 2026.

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VICTORIA — There was a ring of familiarity in the air this week as David Eby dusted off a promise from the last NDP election platform to show he is doing something about the current crisis in the health care system.

The setting was the Surrey campus of Simon Fraser University. The premier flanked by a supporting cast of ministers, MLAs and officials, declared “a resounding yes to a new medical school, the first new medical school in Western Canada in 55 years, right here in Surrey.”

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This was hardly news. The New Democrats promised pretty much the same thing in their 2020 NDP election campaign.

The new SFU medical school was supposed to open its doors to the first class of doctors in September 2023. They’d be preparing for their second year of schooling about now if the NDP had managed to deliver on its election promise.

The school is now projected to open its doors at the end of summer 2026, presuming the new schedule is any more reliable than the one the New Democrats touted in 2020.

Eby took a swipe Tuesday at opposing party leaders John Rustad and Kevin Falcon for not acting to establish the second school when they were in government a decade ago.

Yet the New Democrats have yet to break ground themselves. The first cohort of 50 or so doctors will emerge from the SFU medical school to begin their residency requirements in 2029 at the earliest — almost 10 years after the NDP’s first promise.

The prospect of 50 new doctors in five years was little help to Eby when reporters asked about more urgent matters in the health-care system — like the serial closures of hospital emergency rooms in rural, northern and Interior communities.

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“We’re challenged in B.C. with a shortage of the key health care professionals we need, and it’s not unique to us in BC. That’s why today’s announcement is so important,” said Eby, trying to steer the discussion back to the contents of his news release.

Health Minister Adrian Dix then took a stab at addressing how the government was dealing with the crisis in the ERs.

“We never want to put hospital emergency room on diversion, which means the emergency room is not open. That’s why we put so many measures in place,” said Dix.

He followed with a familiar recitation of statistics. The New Democrats have added 45,000 health care workers, 831 doctors, 6,300 nurses. They’ve tripled this program, doubled that one, sparing no expense to increase the ranks.

“We don’t believe diversions are a good thing,” he continued. “We’re doing everything we can to avoid them.”

Still they persist.

And Dix’s statistics are mostly infuriating to people who’ve driven kilometres to discover that the nearest ER is closed and they’ll have to go to the hospital in the next community, hoping its doors won’t be locked as well.

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Merritt Mayor Michael Goetz has sent the province a bill for $84,000, seeking reimbursement on behalf of taxpayers for 19 closures of the local ER in 23 months.

“We shouldn’t be paying for nothing,” he told reporter Rob Buffam of CTV.

Dix professed to care. “We are very concerned and going to be very supportive of Merritt.”

But he couldn’t resist a shot at the complainants as well.

“Because of our investment in Merritt, we spend dramatically more there per capita than other places,” the health minister claimed.

He also attributed the closures to a growing sick list. Some 20,000 health care workers have been booking off every week, more than double the rate before the pandemic.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

“That’s not a criticism of anyone for calling in sick,” Dix hastened to assure the workforce. “When you’re sick, you’re supposed to call in sick. But it just creates real challenges in the system.”

Dix didn’t say whether the increased sick list was related to a recent surge in cases of COVID-19.

He did reject a call to reinstate health care workers who were fired from their jobs for refusing to get vaccinated.

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In terms of the ER staffing, “There were very, very, very few people who lost their jobs,” said Dix.

By that point, the news conference had drifted a long way from the SFU medical school, and its apparent irrelevance to the here-and-now challenges of managing the health-care system.

After seven years in power, the New Democrats can’t escape accountability for the failings of the system.

Yet the current premier, taking office at the end of 2022, vowed that before the next election, he would produce “results that people can see and feel and touch and experience in their lives and communities.”

He was warned that it would take longer than the less-than-two years remaining on the calendar to make significant progress on housing affordability, the cost of living, access to health care and other intractable problems.

Eby thought he knew better. Now he tries to maintain the illusion of progress, even when the actual results on the ground differ from the fanciful notions in his news releases. 

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