Long before anyone ever heard of Silverstone Care Centre or the Trellis Group, it was widely known that we had a serious problem with long-term care capacity on the Sunshine Coast. For years, unacceptable wait times have left people, the vast majority seniors, stuck for months in limbo at Sechelt Hospital, taking up acute care beds, disrupting patients and draining hospital staff and resources.
Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) announced its remedy for the crisis earlier this year with a plan to close Sechelt’s two residential care homes and replace them with a single privately owned and operated facility that would produce a net gain of 20 beds.
Since then, the debate has largely narrowed down to whether public or for-profit facilities should deliver long-term care in the community. In fact, some opponents of the VCH plan seem to believe that killing the Trellis contract and simply retaining the status quo would be a glorious victory.
As 52 active and retired doctors on the Sunshine Coast made clear this week, nothing could be further from the truth.
In their letter to provincial Health Minister Terry Lake, the doctors do acknowledge legitimate concerns about replacing public facilities with a private one, and they take VCH to task for its stunning lack of consultation before signing the Trellis deal – but their “primary concern” is capacity.
And they spell out just how serious the problem is.
At present, the Coast needs 57 more long-term care beds to bring us up to the average in communities served by VCH. By 2018, based on projected population growth, the number of additional beds needed here will be 126.
For Sechelt Hospital, the impact is worse than we imagined, with more than 40 per cent of acute care beds now being occupied by long-term care patients, waiting on average four months each. Incredibly, the cost is three times what it would be to care for them in a residential facility. (In their own letter of support for the doctors, the Coast’s three Chambers of Commerce estimate the shortage is costing the system more than $200,000 a month.)
Along with the added cost, other downstream effects of VCH’s short-sighted approach are: hospital overcrowding, reduced privacy, increased risk of infection and premature discharges of sick patients.
The doctors, in an unprecedented show of collective concern, have delivered a 12-pound message to the B.C. government and refocused the debate over long-term care on the Sunshine Coast.
Whether the solution is to go ahead with the Silverstone project while retaining Shorncliffe or Totem, or both, to meet current and future needs, we at least have a professional diagnosis of the problem – and the overriding issue is, and remains, capacity.
Fifty-two doctors can’t be wrong. But will the health minister listen?