Can we find a better way?

Chilliwack can be justifiably proud of the renovations that have taken place at Chilliwack General Hospital over the past few months.Last week the community capped off the effort with an open house that marked not only the opening of the new expanded emergency department, but also the 100th anniversary of the hospital itself.But while the celebrations are warranted, it would be a mistake to assume the recent construction will end all the challenges faced by CGH and hospitals like it.The $35 million renovation was one of the most expensive capital projects undertaken in Chilliwack. It’s remarkable not only because of the $30 million in tax dollars that went into the work, but the $5 million that was raised locally by the Fraser Health Care Foundation through individual and corporate donations.The work was long overdue, and will position the hospital for the expected growth in the region for years to come.What it won’t do is help meet the biggest challenge facing hospitals: ongoing operating costs.Last week the provincial government tabled its budget for the coming year. It again highlighted the amount of money spent annually on health care in B.C. Despite continued efforts to rein in costs, the government expects healthcare spending to increase by $2 billion by 2013. It already accounts for 42 per cent of total government spending in the year, or $17.58 billion. That compares with $11.38 billion for education (27 per cent), and $2.48 billion for social services (eight per cent).Reducing healthcare costs has been a national obsession for decades. Yet despite repeated assertions that the current level of spending is unsustainable, it continues to consume 42 cents of every dollar raised by the government.Solutions? There are no shortage of suggestions, ranging from an unfettered free market, to British-style salaried physicians. What is lacking is the political will to take these studies and suggestions and develop a cohesive strategy to reform healthcare delivery in a way that encourages efficiencies – without sacrificing care for those who need it. We then need a government with the courage to overcome the politics and myriad of special interest concerns to see to it implemented.It’s been said that healthcare in Canada is like the weather; everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything about it.But talk will only take us so far. The money spent on capital projects like hospital expansions will mean little if efforts to reduce costs remain as uncreative as cutting staff and limiting services.