COMMENT: Where are all the grown-ups overseeing our health care?

Kyra Hoggan
By Kyra Hoggan
January 30th, 2014

I’d like to paint a picture for you, explaining why, in my opinion, this region enjoys sub-par health services:

Imagine, if you would, that you’re the BC Minister of Health. You oversee five health authorities, with 16 health services delivery areas under them, all of them clamouring for a finite pool of funding and resources.

On the one hand, you’ve got an area that knows exactly what it wants and where. If you go in there and, say, build a hospital, you’ll get lots of public support and approval, improve your job performance rating across the province and within the media, and the region will be falling all over itself to help you achieve your goals.

On the other hand, you’ve got another region so fractious and divisive, they can’t even agree on how to move forward with a study to determine priority areas, much less reach consensus on an actual game plan.

If you go in and build a hospital (or reinvest significantly in existing hospitals), there’s every reason to believe you’ll be looking at protests, furious confrontations, your staff being treated poorly, limited cooperation at best – and you’ll leave having lost as much political yardage, if not more, than you gained by essentially handing them hundreds of millions of health care dollars.

And just to make it fun, the heath district board governing that region won’t even tell you what it wants – it says that’s your mandate, not theirs.

What kind of a self-destructive, apolitical idiot would choose Region #2? Not any health minister in this province, I’d argue.

Here’s the bad news – we are unquestionably Region #2.

From my perspective, the bullying, in-fighting and acrimonious exchanges have reached such a fever pitch that even our hospital board has thrown its hands up and refuses to have the conversation about future priorities. Board chair Marguerite Rotvold told me in an interview today that, “The planning process is really in IH’s mandate. Our mandate is to partner with IH to fund construction and equipment for acute health care services”.

Say what?!

We expect IHA to give us what we want … but at the same time refuse to tell them what we want? That certainly seems a recipe for success.

This conflict has been going on for at least as long as I’ve been in the region (and I’m told it was here long before my arrival), and it’s hurting all of us. A recent IHA facilities study made it clear we need significant investment in our current facilities just to bring them up to standard, much less equip them to face future increased service needs .. and yet, our local government leaders are creating such a disincentive for ministry investment and involvement, I think it’s a wonder we have any services at all.

We’re seeing sweeping cuts in the region, not growth and investment, and if you ask me, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

I wish I could point the finger at local government – but that would, ironically, be pointless.

So entrenched and polarized have our communities become that everyone’s afraid to give an inch, for fear someone else will take a mile and they will have ill-served their constituents. Serving your community should go hand-in-glove with serving your region, but somehow we’ve allowed a culture to evolve that’s so divisive and antagonistic that the reverse is true.

Oh, let’s be honest here, the word I really want to use is “childish”.

A case-in-point, for me, is Castlegar’s recent effort to fund a strategic plan implemented by former CAO (and former RDCK CAO) Jim Gustafson. I knew the second I heard of it that Trail would opt out … and no one can make me believe that Castlegar didn’t know it, too.

I’m embarrassed for everyone involved.

Castlegar could have, and should have, found a less unilateral approach that would be less threatening to Trail (you know, not demanding everyone play with Castlegar’s ball), and Trail should’ve put down its blankie and played nicely with the other children.

No provincial minister is going to wade into a region that behaves more like a Kindergarten class, where they have to hand-hold and toss out pacifiers like they’re candy, than like adults who want to plan for the future.

I see no indication our civic leaders are prepared to offer the province anything but what I just described. There are, of course, many locally-elected representatives advocating for cooperation … but they keep getting shouted down by the classroom bullies, their efforts stifled by the two-year-old, “Me, me, me!” cry that’s drowning out any calm voice of reason.

It seems to me there’s only one solution.

We have an election cycle coming up this fall.

Every single candidate will spout health care as a priority (as they have every election since I was watching Sesame Street and drinking my milk from a bottle), and we can let that be enough, and continue to suffer with sub-standard care.

OR, we can make regional cooperation a massive platform issue. Don’t just ask IF they’ll collaborate with other local governments – demand they commit to HOW they’ll collaborate. Get promises of joint needs studies and strategic planning, and then hold them to those promises. Stop letting them prioritize health care so vehemently and childishly that they’re actually jeopardizing health care for the entire region.

It looks like the only ones willing to act like adults and supervise the classroom, at this point, are the voters – that’s right, us – and if we don’t, I don’t think we’re going to like the tantrums that ensue, at the expense of our health, safety and well-being.