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LETTER: IHA cuts short-sighted, harmful

Note: This is an open letter to Dr. Robert Halpenny, CEO of the Interior Health Authority from Keith Simmonds of the United Church.

Dear Dr. Halpenny,

I was dismayed to learn that the IHA has decided to cut the Social Work positions that offer direct support and care to people and families whose lives are already consumed by end of life issues.

I cannot believe that the IHA would see the elimination of the services and supports offered by the terminated positions as either humane or cost-effective. When I first heard of the cuts to service, I wondered what the IHA’s backup plan was, as the supports offered individuals and families through the eliminated positions were and are too important for the community to do without. Unfortunately it does not look as if there is one.

A recent article in the Trail Daily Times (Hospice Volunteers – May 25, 2010) appears to indicate that the decision to eliminate staff was taken without full knowledge of the gaps in service that will be left or how to fill them. The local administrator is in the unenviable position of having to admit to the lack of a plan on the one hand, while professing a complete willingness to help the two remaining social workers, community volunteers and medical professionals fill the void, once it’s determined what the void is. It seems, therefore, that the decision has put short-term budgetary considerations far ahead of service to the dying and their families.

Deciding to react to provincial budget decisions in this way is reprehensible in the harm it metes out to those who helped build the healthcare system, many of whom are among the dying and their surviving family members. It is also, ironically, a measure destined to increase the pressure on other components of the healthcare system, as yet another of the ‘extra’ supports offered to community members living with pain, suffering and personal tragedy is taken away. People will have to turn to  institutionalized care when the persons offering de-institutionalized care and supports are removed from their lives. That fact is the fiscal reality behind the creation of the affected positions in the first place.

This years’ budget may be balanced, but only at the expense of next year's short-fall. It would be prudent, therefore, for a wise manager to rescind this decision and look for other ways to cover the provincial shortage. I hope you will soon be announcing your decision to do so.

Yours Sincerely,

Keith Simmonds
diaconal minister,
United Church of Canada