Chilliwack doctors were not consulted by Fraser Health Authority officials before the decision was made to close the rehabilitation unit at Chilliwack General Hospital.
And Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz said she was unable to persuade FHA officials Monday to hold off closing the unit until community consultations could take place.
The closure may also put additional strain on the FHA’s relationship with the Fraser Valley Regional Hospital District board, which is already sitting on a $1.2 million request by the health authority for hospital equipment funding.
Chilliwack MLA John Les is also unhappy about the FHA’s decision.
“It seems odd to me that a new (rehab) program announced a few years ago is now deemed not to be the right model,” he said. “If there’s something better, it had better be better for the patient because that’s the ruler I’m using.”
“I will be discussing this further with the FHA CEO (Dr. Nigel Murray) in the next couple of weeks,” he said.
Valerie Spurrell, the FHA’s executive director of rehabilitation programs, agreed the decision to close the hospital’s rehab unit in favour of outpatient services would cut costs, “but we wouldn’t do it if it didn’t give patients the right services.”
She described the outpatient service as an “addition” to rehab options, rather than a cut, which will result in better health outcomes. The 20-bed unit at the Chilliwack hospital was billed as a “seamless” transition from hospital to home when it opened in 2006.
Hospital medical staff were not available for comment Wednesday, but Dr. Ralph Jones said Chilliwack doctors were not asked for any input into the FHA decision, which has “lots of implications for other (hospital) departments like surgery, geriatrics, medicine and emergency.”
He said many of the patients are the frail elderly, who often have only elderly spouses looking after them at home, and no easy way to access the outpatient service.
“I cannot see my patients … being able to come in to the (outpatient) clinic on a daily basis,” he said.
In England, he added, there is a well-organized system for transporting elderly outpatients from home to hospital services — but that’s not the case in Chilliwack.
Gaetz said home care staff in Chilliwack are already over-loaded, and that Handi-Dart buses that elderly rehab patients would need to get to the Abbotsford hospital is “over-subscribed.”
“Even of we added another bus, we’re still at the limit,” she said. “This is a huge issue.”
A Hospital Employees Union spokesperson said there is a “litany of concerns” with the FHA’s Rehabilitation Early Discharge initiative (REDi).
“This is not just a frivolous unit,” said Margi Blamey, but a “critical phase” in the rehabilitation of patients that included participation by family and friends.
“It set them up for a successful return home,” she said.
Spurrell said a task force is being formed to ensure patients needs in terms of transportation and home support are met, and that consultations with doctors and community health agencies “to work through implementation issues” will continue over the next couple of months.
“We truly believe this change we’re making will make a big difference in terms of better outcomes, and more satisfied patients,” she said.