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Government & policy

Falcon says innovation is key to health improvement

VICTORIA – British Columbia’s new health minister, Kevin Falcon (pictured), says he “never shies away from a challenge”, and isn’t afraid of change. In the near future, such change could include the amalgamation of two of B.C.’s regional health authorities – Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health – along with the announcement of public-private partnerships.

“We have to figure out how to deliver quality healthcare through innovation,” said Falcon, formerly the provincial transportation minister.

He will oversee a ministry that spends $40 million in taxpayers’ dollars per day. Health received two of every three dollars of new spending in the last provincial budget, and is projected to handle half of all government spending within three years.

Representatives of nurses and doctors praised Falcon’s predecessor, George Abbott, and said they hoped Falcon will be equal to the task.

“He doesn’t have any experience in health but he’s considered to be one of the premier’s inner allies, so that probably is a good signal that the government will keep healthcare at the top of the agenda,” said BC Nurses Union president Debra McPherson.

BC Medical Association President Dr. Bill Mackie said Falcon is “a bright young man and certainly capable of running a complex ministry.”

There has been speculation in the healthcare community that the government is poised to create a super-region by combining the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal health authorities to save money in administration and other areas.

The government has not appointed a permanent successor to Ida Goodreau, the former Vancouver Coastal CEO who resigned six months ago, fuelling rumours that Dr. Nigel Murray, the CEO of Fraser Health, will become the boss for both regions.

If Falcon opts for a super-region, Alberta’s experience may become relevant. In that province, the government has replaced nine regional health boards with one to achieve efficiencies with a more streamlined system.

“There was unprecedented change but nothing happened,” AMA president Dr. Noel Grisdale said recently, referring to the fact the “super-board” is running a $500-million deficit and that nine months after its creation, it has achieved no apparent operational efficiencies while surgeries are being cancelled and services cut.

The British Columbians are likely assessing the experience of New Brunswick, as well, which last year re-jigged eight health regions into just two.