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Leaked document puts Fraser Health on defensive over service cuts

Opposition health critic Adrian Dix today released an internal document from Fraser Health outlining potential service cuts, forcing the health authority to defend their attempts to reconcile a $160 million budgetary shortfall.

“It's a draft, it's two weeks old [and] not approved,” said Fraser Health's interim vice president of communications, David Plug, about the leaked document. “It's unfortunately very misleading for the public because a number of the options were decided against or were decided another way.”

British Columbia's health authorities have been under scrutiny since July 15, when Health Minister Kevin Falcon sent out a memo warning them not to expect any funding beyond what was included in the province’s February budget.

The six health authorities collectively had predicted expenses $360 million greater than total funding. In past years, the province has announced additional funding mid-way through the year to make up shortfalls. This year, Falcon's memo made clear, the difference must be reconciled with budget cuts or increases in non-governmental revenues.

The document released by the B.C. NDP was prepared by the Fraser Health Authority's communications department, and describes how the agency could respond to questions on possible service changes.

Dix, in a press release, said “This document illustrates the price residents in the Fraser Valley will pay because the B.C. Liberals misrepresented their plans for health care in a bid to get re-elected.”

Plug responded by pointing out that many of the most controversial changes mentioned -- such as downgrading some acute care beds, closing an outreach programs for diabetes care and eliminating support for a Canadian National Institute for the Blind community program -- have already been rejected.

In the budget process, he said, “we look at a lot of what may seem to the public to be very unpopular or controversial ideas because otherwise you don't get the most effective ideas. You have to put all options on the table so you can gauge them all.”

Some potentially unpopular options that Fraser Health has already decided to implement include capping the number of MRI scans at last year's levels, reducing the number of elective surgeries, and increasing hospital parking fees.

Other changes mentioned in the leaked document -- such as converting the Mission Memorial Hospital's emergency room to an urgent care centre -- may still be considered as the authority reviews its options for streamlining services to cut costs.

Amelia Bellamy-Royds reports for The Tyee.

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