Local health services looking for fair funding
By Oona Woods
The Sea to Sky Community Health Council and the Coast Garibaldi Health Services estimate that an increase in funding of between $375,000 and $0.5 million is needed to allow them to bring services in to line with the demands of the corridor populace.
The federal government transfers health care money to the provincial government on a per capita basis, but the Ministry of Health in B.C. does not distribute this money to regions using the same formula.
If funding were provided on a per capita basis the Sea to Sky Corridor would be in line for a massive $1.9 million increase.
However, despite the corridor’s average annual growth rate of 25 per cent — among the highest in the country — the health ministry has only recognised a 0.5 per cent population increase.
The provincial government announced last week that it is injecting around $10 million into the medical system to reduce hospital wait lists and free up acute care beds. Despite the many rural shortages around B.C. this money is being directed towards urban centres. The Sea to Sky CHC and CGHS state that although they welcome this infusion of funds into the health care system they are looking forward to a dialogue with the minister about the distribution to relieve pressures faced by rural health services.
The only money that has been earmarked for health services in the corridor is $110,000 for safety and security upgrades at the Whistler Health Care Centre, Pemberton Health Care Centre and Squamish General Hospital.
"To understand all of this we need to go back to the beginning," says Fran Cuthbert, chair of the Sea to Sky CMC.
"Before regionalization (approximately three years ago) Squamish had its own board and budget. Whistler was the same, the hospital had its own priorities. When we went into the regionalization process as a corridor we were 17.5 per cent underfunded to the provincial average. And we are not caught up yet. Our point is that we were behind going in to the process plus we’ve had phenomenal population growth. We’ve increased services without getting any additional money to do this with."
If the Ministry of Health increased funding to the $375,000 requested the local health services would be able to;
o Extend hours for the Pemberton Medical Centre and supply a second nurse on duty.
o Push the Whistler Health Care Centre up to 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. At the moment the clinic is open 18 hours a day with 911 coverage after 9 p.m.
o Provide additional funding for broad health care services in Squamish.
Cuthbert says these are not unreasonable demands considering the extent to which the local population has mushroomed.
"Basically, A, we want to provide the broader service that the population needs and B, that is the level we should be at... If we got the $375,000 we would be ecstatic, we could address everything we need to address. If we got the $0.5 million we would be doing cartwheels.
"We are not asking for a lot in the big picture. If you look at all the property taxes coming out of the corridor, particularly in Whistler, as well as all the hotel tax the money coming back in isn’t even close. We just need to address these critical issues and not take ‘No’ for an answer."
The regional health authorities are continuing to talk with health ministry officials and will have their next meeting with the Ministry of Health’s director of acute and continuing care at the opening of the new Pemberton X-ray facility on March 4 at 1:30 p.m.