EDITORIAL: Health-care realities

Hospitals in the Fraser Health region are chronically overcrowded. Patients regularly are parked in hallways and emergency wards ...

Hospitals in the Fraser Health region are chronically overcrowded. Patients regularly are parked in hallways and emergency wards – sometimes for days.

Those uncomfortable – and sometimes risky – realities will be the focus of a panel of external experts who will examine hospital congestion and make recommendations.

It isn’t likely this group will uncover major solutions that haven’t already been identified and implemented.

A number of progressive initiatives to deal with hospital congestion have been recently undertaken by Fraser Health, including pay-for-performance funding to reward hospitals for increasing efficiency, and  a push for patient home support rather than hospital stays.

Yet, despite those efforts, emergency visits are up 7.3 per cent so far this year and patient days spent in hospitals in the region are up five per cent.

Clearly, demand is outstripping facilities and resources. And the pressure is going to continue to rise, as Fraser Health estimates it will gain another 327,000 residents, or 20 per cent more, by 2020. Meanwhile, the population of seniors over age 65 is forecast to balloon 50 per cent by 2020 to more than 100,000.

The “quick” solution is to build more hospital capacity. However, that requires vast sums of money – from a cash-strapped government already running deficit budgets and facing increasing debt, in a less than dynamic economic climate.

The armchair quarterbacks will lob off criticisms anchored in hindsight, and vague “stop wasting money” bromides, which of course don’t address the specifics, nor the billions of dollars required for expanded hospital infrastructure, and the professionals required to staff it.

Make no mistake, hospital overcrowding is only one aspect of B.C’s overall health care challenge, which currently gobbles $18 billion, or more than 40 per cent of the entire provincial budget.

As this new panel of experts will confirm, there are no easy answers to the present model of health care delivery, which increasingly appears to be unsustainable.

It’s time to get real with a national step toward expanded forms of fee-for-service.