11/01/2013 03:26 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Fraser Health Authority Review Ordered After Budget Mismanaged

VICTORIA - British Columbia's fastest-growing health authority has failed to manage its budget three years in a row, prompting the health minister to take "strong action" by ordering a review of its operations and leadership.

Terry Lake said funding for the authority has increased by six per cent over three years, compared to 4.8 per cent at other health authorities.

"The increases they've received have actually outpaced the population growth so that doesn't add up for us," Lake said Friday of the Fraser Health Authority, which serves 1.6 million people in the region that extends from Burnaby, to Hope, to Boston Bar.

He anticipates more money will be needed for the health authority, which has been directed to submit a revised plan for the remainder of this fiscal year and a new three-year strategic plan by late spring 2014. The review is expected to be completed by the end of May.

A committee of Health Ministry officials and health leaders will help the board put the plans in place, Lake said.

He said the funding boost expected for the Fraser Health Authority means savings will be found elsewhere, but that will be a challenge for the ministry with a budget of $16.4 million.

Lake said he doesn't anticipate any service cuts elsewhere.

"Essentially this is the third year in a row where Fraser has had challenges meeting their fiscal targets. Obviously there have been some concerns," he said, noting congestion in hospitals is one issue that will be looked at.

Besides the money issue, the review will consider different ways of delivering health care as costs continue to rise across the country, Lake said.

"When you look across Canada, in fact across North America, you're seeing that all governments are trying to do the same thing because with five, six, seven per cent increases on a yearly basis, the system is simply not sustainable."

British Columbia's 2012-2013 budget noted health-care spending would increase by $2.4 billion over three years based on spending increases over the next three years of 2.6 per cent each. That's a drastic reduction from spending hikes of seven per cent between 2005 and the 2008-2009 budget year.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong was challenged when this year's budget was delivered on whether his government could keep health care spending increases contained to 2.6 per cent this year.

Fraser Health board chairman David Mitchell said he supports the development of a new strategic plan so service requirements can be met.

"We welcome the opportunity to work with other provincial health leaders to share best practices in a collaborative and constructive process," he said.

The New Democrats say the government needs to take immediate action to fix emergency-room overcrowding, inadequate staffing levels and increasing patient volumes at Fraser Health Authority hospitals.

They say the government is merely "buying time with a vague plan to review the health authority."

"The Liberals want to look like they are finding solutions to this totally unacceptable reality, when in fact they have denied the problem and failed to find a solution that will help patients today," said health critic Judy Darcy.

The B.C. Nurses Union has complained that patients are suffering in overcrowded emergency rooms managed by the Fraser Health Authority, but Lake maintained the current review was not triggered by any specific concerns.

In early October, the Fraser Health authority opened Surrey Memorial Hospital's new emergency department at a cost of more than $500 million, but the union said it's still too small for the area's growing population.

The health authority apologized earlier this month after a 90-year-old blind woman was discharged at 2 a.m. from Delta Hospital's emergency department while wearing her socks and bleeding from her arm following blood tests.

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