Cuts proposed in leaked documents ‘detrimental to patient health’ 

Health authority charged with eliminating $136 million debt in 12 months

It's not official that the new health care system will reduce hospital beds, slash community programs and introduce user fees for certain services.

But these things were all part of leaked documents, originally drafted by the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, and made public by the BCNU this week.

While nothing in the documents points to direct impacts on the Whistler Health Care Centre, the changes are predicted to be widespread and may have indirect consequences throughout the entire health authority.

"When you're dealing with this sort of change, the system is going to be very, very different," said Clay Adams, communications director at the VCHA.

"And people need to understand that."

But Adams said the leaked documents need to be treated with caution because they are only working documents and no cutbacks or changes have been implemented yet.

Representatives of the BCNU on the other hand, said the documents are cause for grave concern, even if they are only working documents.

The proposals outlined in them are a sign of impending things to come, they said.

"(These changes) are detrimental to patient health, detrimental to patient care and, my own personal prediction is that it is going to cost more in the end," said Sandy Bauer, BCNU steward at the Squamish General Hospital.

Proposed changes in the leaked North Shore document, which is part of the VCHA, include:

• closing 367 intermediate and extended care beds (to be replaced by 120 "assisted living" beds, with a much reduced level of care);

• cutting 25 per cent of Lions Gate Hospital's palliative care beds;

• closing three cardiac care unit beds at Lions Gate Hospital;

• closing six beds at the Powell River Hospital in 2002/2003;

• closing the Olive Devaud Residence in Powell River.

"I think that it is so horrendously short-sighted," said Bauer, of the bed closures.

She said most of these beds are currently occupied and in fact there are waiting lists for most of them.

BCNU projects there will be over crowding in the hospitals as a result of the bed cuts and waiting lists will grow even longer.

"Most of these folks are going to end up in the ER rooms and taking up acute care beds," said Bauer.

"It's certainly going to overwhelm the remaining acute care system, like the nurses and others in the system."

This means increased workloads and stress levels in acute care – a system which is already strained at the moment.

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