British Columbia Premier David Eby promises hope for health solutions

British Columbia Premier David Eby promises hope for health solutions

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

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VICTORIA — There was a tone of familiarity in the air this week as David Eby dusted off a promise from the NDP’s latest election platform to show he’s doing something about the ongoing crisis in the health care system.

The setting was the Simon Fraser University campus in Surrey. The prime minister, joined by a group of ministers, MPs 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 is nothing new. The New Democrats promised much the same thing in their 2020 NDP election campaign.

SFU’s new medical school was supposed to open its doors to its first class of doctors in September 2023. By now, they would be preparing for their second year of studies if the NDP had managed to keep its election promise.

The school is now projected to open in late summer 2026, assuming the new calendar is more reliable than the one New Democrats touted in 2020.

On Tuesday, Eby criticized opposition party leaders John Rustad and Kevin Falcon for failing to act to establish the second school when they were in government a decade ago.

However, the New Democrats have yet to take the first steps. The first cohort of about 50 doctors will graduate from SFU’s medical school and 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 of little help to Eby when reporters asked him about more pressing issues in the health care system, such as the serial closures of hospital emergency rooms in rural, northern and inland communities.

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“In British Columbia, we are facing a shortage of the key health care professionals we need, and it’s not unique to us in British Columbia. That’s why today’s announcement is so important,” Eby said, attempting to refocus the discussion on the content of her press release.

Health Minister Adrian Dix then attempted to address how the government was dealing with the crisis in emergency rooms.

“We never want hospital emergency rooms to be bypassed, meaning they’re not open. That’s why we’ve put so many measures in place,” Dix said.

He then rattled off some now-familiar statistics: The New Democrats have added 45,000 health care workers, 831 doctors and 6,300 nurses. They have tripled this program and doubled that one, sparing no expense to swell the ranks.

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

Yet they persist.

And Dix’s statistics are mostly infuriating to people who have driven miles only to find that the nearest emergency room is closed and they’ll have to go to the neighboring community hospital, hoping its doors aren’t locked, too.

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

“We shouldn’t have to pay for anything,” he told CTV’s Rob Buffam.

Dix said he cared: “We are very concerned and we will support Merritt.”

But he couldn’t resist attacking the whistleblowers as well.

“Thanks to our investment in Merritt, we spend much more there per capita than elsewhere,” the health minister said.

He also blamed the closures on a growing sick list: some 20,000 health workers have been asking for leave each week, more than double the pre-pandemic rate.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

“It’s not a criticism of anyone for calling in sick,” Dix was quick to assure workers. “When you’re sick, you’re supposed to call in sick. But that just creates real challenges in the system.”

Dix did not say whether the increase in the sick list was related to a recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

He rejected a request to reinstate health workers who were fired from their jobs for refusing to get vaccinated.

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In terms of first responders, “there were very, very, very few people who lost their jobs,” Dix said.

By that point, the press conference had already moved far away from SFU’s medical school and its seeming irrelevance to the current challenges of managing the health care system.

After seven years in power, the New Democrats cannot escape responsibility for the system’s failures.

However, the current prime minister, who will take office at the end of 2022, has promised that before the next election he would produce “results that people can see, feel, touch and experience in their lives and communities.”

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

Eby thought he knew better. Now he is trying to maintain the illusion of progress, even though the actual results on the ground differ from the fantastic notions expressed in his press releases.

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