The head of Chilliwack hospital doctors took the unusual step of going public last week in reaction to the closure of the hospital’s rehab unit by the Fraser Health Authority.
“I would not normally talk to the press,” Dr. Ken Hirst told The Progress, “but this issue of how to manage our rehab floor is quite a significant issue and has quite a significant impact on patient care at the hospital.”
“We believe (the closure) has not really been carefully thought out,” he said, in terms of the impact on patient care and on other hospital departments that send patients recovering from the likes of strokes or major surgery to the rehab unit.
“The ward as it currently stands is filled with patients that come from our own hospital setting … it is completely utilized by the needs of our community,” he said. “It is not an under-utilized resource.”
And rehab patients who are often elderly and may not recover at home due to the lack of family or community support networks and need to return to the hospital will “lessen the availability of surgical and medical beds,” he said.
“It makes the hospital even more inefficient in its ability to deliver what it should be doing, which is acute care,” he said.
FHA officials say the decision to convert the unit to an outpatient clinic and send the more intensive rehab cases to Abbotsford is an “addition” to rehab options in Chilliwack, rather than a cut, and will result in better health outcomes.
A task force will also ensure that patients’ needs in terms of transportation and home support are met, and that consultations will take place with hospital doctors and community health agencies over the next couple of months.
But Hirst, who is paid by the FHA to head up the hospital’s department of general practices, said any discussions with hospital doctors at this point will be about how to “manage the crisis” caused by the closure.
“We (doctors) have a huge stake in how these patients are to be cared for, “ he said, “but there has been no communication or apparent consideration of all the ramifications.”
“I’m head of the department (yet) I was not aware of this,” he said.
A Hospital Employees Union spokesman said there is no truth to speculation that a union protocol prevented the health authority from discussing the closure with hospital doctors before union members were informed.
“We would never take a position that they shouldn’t (be included),” said Chris Dorais. “We would be saying they (doctors) deserve the same respect as anyone in the system.”
Meanwhile, former rehab patients are speaking out about the closure and calling on local MLAs to stand up for the local service.
“Why are we taking away something that has worked for six years and putting it closer to the bigger town centre?” Norma Jean Boisvert, caregiver/partner to Glenda Jean Pearson, said.
“This is a small town, but it is growing and we will need this,” she said. “It will come back at some point because somebody will turn the wheel and say, ‘Chilliwack needs a permanent rehab centre.’”
“Why don’t we leave well enough alone?”
Richard Rehsler, a double-amputee living in Yarrow, said chances are good he will need more rehab as infections compounded by diabetes takes its toll on his body.
But there’s an “epidemic” of diabetes under way, and demand for rehab can only increase, he predicted.
Rehsler said he was monitored daily by rehab staff, something that would not have happened at home, and helped kick a dependence on pain-killers and helped stay physically fit in the clinic’s gym.
There was also the “camaraderie” among rehab patients themselves that provided the kind of support that recovering at home could not match.
“It makes all the difference in the world,” he said.
Chilliwack MLA John Les said he is meeting next week with FHA CEO Dr. Nigel Murray to discuss the closure.
“I will be having a pretty intense discussion next week with Dr. Murray,” he said. “It’s about time the community was shown some respect.”
Chilliwack-Hope MLA Gwen O’Mahony is also asking questions about the decision, which she believes may be more expensive in the long run, if outpatients end up returning to hospital emergency rooms.
“I have many concerns … I just don’t see the benefits to Chilliwack,” she said.