VIHA backs off signature demand

Campbell River doctors say the VIHA tried to coerce them into signing off on the new hospital project

Campbell River doctors say the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) tried to coerce them into signing off on the new hospital project but now VIHA has changed its mind.

On Monday, North Island MLA Claire Trevena issued a release saying the doctors were being pressured into supporting a new hospital without the full assurance it would meet the needs of the community. Trevena went so far as to say VIHA CEO Howard Waldner demanded the physicians agree to the proposed hospital by the beginning of this week or the project would be “scuttled entirely.”

Waldner was scheduled to attend a meeting with the Campbell River hospital medical staff on Tuesday night but cancelled 24 hours before the meeting.

“There was a meeting called by VIHA executive to discuss an agreement to the two North Island hospitals project,” said Dr. Roy Minaar, who chaired Tuesday’s meeting. “But we had a telephone conference with Mr. Waldner yesterday and he felt it was no longer necessary.

Minaar said Waldner told him VIHA really only needed a letter of support from the Comox Valley physicians, as media reports in the Valley surfaced that some politicians wanted to revisit the single, regional hospital model, and that the Treasury Board would proceed without a letter from Campbell River.

Waldner told the Mirror early Monday afternoon that VIHA did receive a letter of support from doctors in the Comox Valley and that there was “absolutely no compulsion” on the Campbell River physicians to do the same.

However, Waldner did say the province may look more favourably on VIHA’s business case, a comprehensive document outlining the project, and grant VIHA the capital funding it requires to build the new facilities, if it had support from Campbell River.

“Personally if I was thinking of funding a capital project and the folks up there did not support it, I might think twice about it,” Waldner said.

Dr. Chuck Mahoney said he found it curious how Waldner seemed to change his mind so quickly.

“I was quite surprised listening to Mr. Waldner’s telephone call last night,” said Mahoney, who noted that the group of local doctors who met with Waldner earlier in the month came back with the impression they would have to support the project or risk having things fall apart. “And then last night, he says ‘it’s okay, we don’t need your support.’”

Mahoney said even if the doctors were still required to send a letter of support, he wouldn’t as he is concerned Campbell River will be left out if VIHA goes ahead with a one hospital on two sites plan which was outlined in the business case.

“I think I would vote against accepting a proposal with this governance model tied to it,” Mahoney said. “We’ll always be a minority group in a single medical staff.”

Dr. Jennifer Grace, a site chief at the hospital, said Campbell River would likely lose its trauma services under that type of model.

“I think Comox has a lot to gain because it’s getting a bigger and better hospital,” Grace said. “I think Waldner’s tone changed because this is a political game. They thought this was a joyous occasion but it’s turned into a media nightmare. We’ve been given an ultimatum to agree to one hospital on two sites. If we said no and the whole model collapsed it would be an unfortunate circumstance.”

Mayor Walter Jakeway said the very fact Waldner pulled out of the meeting with Campbell River medical staff says a lot.

“His very decision that he didn’t have to come here today shows he’s totally misread the situation,” Jakeway said. “My concern is that as soon as they get the funding they’ll (VIHA) stop listening because they’re not really even listening right now. I think we have to cut them off at the pass.”

Jakeway told the medical staff he’s confident the province will accept VIHA’s business case and provide funding for the hospitals.

“I can’t believe the Liberal government is just going to ignore it,” Jakeway said. “It would be political suicide for them to not do this. This is a swing riding – it’ll happen.”

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