Vancouver Coastal Health - Celebrating a decade of care
By Kip Woodward, Special to The Sun
December 20, 2011
The Da Vinci surgical robot at VGH, operated by Dr. Larry Goldenberg, is just one of many recent technical advances.
Photograph by: Peter Battistoni, Vancouver Sun Vancouver Sun
This month marks the tenth anniversary of the creation of British Columbia’s six health authorities, including Vancouver Coastal Health which provides services for Vancouver, Richmond, the North Shore, the Sunshine Coast, Whistler, Squamish, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.
The anniversary, plus the time of year — a time when we’re given to looking back and to looking forward — offers the opportunity to examine how far Vancouver Coastal Health’s services have come, and where they’re going.
Last year, there were 352,455 visits to emergency departments at VCH hospitals. That’s an increase of almost 4,500 visits from the previous year, and a whopping increase of 76,359 visits a year from just 10 years ago. Final numbers for 2011 have yet to be tallied, but they’re on pace for a four-per-cent increase over 2010 in visits to emergency departments and operating rooms, which means that VCH emergency departments see an average of nearly 1,000 people on any given day.
This kind of access tells many stories, but it’s also a reminder of a constant in health care: Most of us pay closest attention to our health care system when we require access to its services, our view of its effectiveness largely determined by our own experience, or that of our family or our friends.
In no small way does that individual experience shape broader decisions and directions in health care. To meet this increasing demand for emergency care, VCH opened an expanded and renovated emergency department at Richmond Hospital this year, part of a two-year, $10.2-million renovation project. The demand was also met with the opening last year of a new $3.1-million Squamish General Hospital emergency department, with 12 treatment beds and new waiting, triage and trauma rooms. Similar upgrades have been done at Vancouver General and Lions Gate hospitals.
It has been a remarkable decade. Treatments, procedures and programs that didn’t exist in 2001 are now part of the daily life of our facilities. And no wonder — on any given day, a person enters a VCH hospital every two minutes. On that same day, VCH gives five life- or organ-threatened patients the chance of a renewed life. It makes almost 900 home care visits and provides close to 200 people with the occupational and physical therapy they need to maximize their quality of life. Every day, our experience with patients and their needs drives new thinking and innovation about what we can do differently, and better.
That’s one of the reasons why staff and physicians at Vancouver General and St. Paul’s performed a record-breaking 295 transplant operations last year, 84 more than the year before. It’s also how we’ve moved from a situation 10 years ago when 75 per cent of patients seeking knee replacement surgery waited six months or longer for operations, to the point now, where that number is under 10 per cent.
Indeed, new methods and new attitudes reflect the way health care has adapted to meet the demands of a growing population. At one end of the spectrum, a new $6.5-million birth centre, with 15 private maternity care rooms and a six-bed neonatal intensive care unit, is now open at Richmond Hospital. At the other, geriatric psychiatry services have been increased with the opening of a second clinic at St. Paul’s to provide psychiatric care to patients over the age of 65 with cognitive impairment, dementia, depression, anxiety or a combination of these symptoms.
Demand drives innovation. A pilot program that improves access to HIV testing, treatment and support services — the first of its kind in the world — is underway in VCH and Northern Health. This four-year initiative called STOP HIV/AIDS expands access to antiretroviral therapy and HIV testing and support services for under-serviced and hard-to-reach individuals. The $48-million program is under the leadership of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS at St. Paul’s Hospital, and is funded by the B.C. government.
Foundations and volunteers are always vital in the drive for accessible health care, and VCH is no exception. The North Shore’s first free-standing hospice is now open thanks to $8.5 million raised in the community by Lions Gate Hospital Foundation, Family Services of the North Shore and Lions Gate Hospice Society. But it’s not enough to just build a facility; it must be staffed and maintained, so a further $1.7 million yearly pledge from the Ministry of Health covers the new facility’s ongoing operating costs.
No discussion of health care is complete without addressing the dollars required to keep the system running. For taxpayers, VCH’s programs and facilities are providing strong health outcomes for all patients when compared to other provinces, including those that spend more money. That’s because making health dollars go further is part of the process at every level of health care at VCH. It was in 2001, and will be even more important in the next 10 years.
It has to be, as VCH hospitals continue to see more people. In-patient visits have steadily increased, with VCH hospitals discharging over 10,000 more people from acute care beds in 2010-11 than almost a decade ago. Last year, VCH hospitals performed over 71,000 surgeries, 6,000 more than the previous year alone. Because Vancouver General and St. Paul’s provide the most complex care for all British Columbians, 40 per cent of the patients will be from outside the Lower Mainland.
All these gains, and so many others since 2001, have been made possible through innovation and leadership, and new goals and greater heights in patient care are being sought every day.
These would include a much-needed new $73-million Mental Health Pavilion at Vancouver General, a state-of-the-art facility that will provide a safe, secure environment for patients and change the way our health care system supports people with complex mental illnesses.
There are plans, too, for the redevelopment of St. Paul’s with its remarkable programs for severe mental health and addiction issues, and for the redevelopment of the George Pearson Hospital site.
Delivering health care is a complex endeavour. Behind every visit to an emergency room, every knee replacement, every organ transplant, every birthing program, every HIV pilot program, every program for seniors and every advance in hospice care, are the men and women of health care, the partners, the volunteers and other generous individuals who want to give back to their community and their health care system.
Based on the past 10 years, little should be predicted about what health care will look like in another 10 years. As these past 10 years have shown at VCH, there is no end of patient demand or need, and no end of the thinking and innovation VCH staff demonstrates thousands of times every day to make a difference in the lives of people from all walks of life. That’s a cause for confidence in us all.
Kip Woodward is chairman of Vancouver Coastal Health.
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