Sending patients to U.S. for cancer care "too little, too late' says MLA

B.C. patients sent to the U.S.

The headlines have been shocking this last week as the B.C. government announced it was going to start sending patients to Bellingham, Washington for radiological cancer care.

On the one hand, something had to be done. The wait times in B.C. have grown from being the best in Canada in 2012 to the very worst. Every day a patient waits for diagnosis and treatment, their outcomes worsen. Having people get to treatment is the only thing to do.

But the decision raises a number of questions.

Why did the government wait so long to take action? My colleagues and I have sounded the alarm about issues in cancer care for the last two and a half years. Copious amounts of time were spent in budget estimates and Question Period March through May asking questions about cancer care wait times and what was being done to lessen them. The response was reassuring rhetoric that everything was “fine”.

But everything was, and is, not fine.

Then, as the story broke, further revelations of wait times actually being worse were revealed by BC Cancer were made, contradicting what had previously been stated by the health minister.

This was an attempt to signal how bad things actually are, far worse than the minister had previously indicated.

We already know this was true because of our experiences with cancer care, or the care of our loved ones. I have heard through emails and phone calls from hundreds of constituents with cancer about the difficulties with waiting.

BC Cancer is an extraordinary organization that is full of exceptional healthcare providers, but they are frustrated with the lack of resources, both human and capital.

As we heard more stories of the inordinate waiting times and the worsening outcomes, we pressed government for action. This action is too little, and too late.

The last time a government sent patients to the U.S. for cancer care was in the 1990s, under the last NDP government. This time, it will cost much more than it did back then.

Twenty percent of all B.C.’s breast and prostate radiation patients will be heading to the U.S. for care. The cost is estimated at $12,000 per patient, plus travel expenses.

The total estimate government has given is $30 million. Critics say the actual cost will be much more. Health Minister Adrian Dix stated the government will send just under 5,000 patients to the US. At a minimum, that would be almost $60 million.

It’s not just about taxpayer cost. It is also about the equity of the situation. Patients from rural and remote communities will have to travel even further for treatment, if they can make the journey, and they will have to have someone travel with them. What about a patient without a passport?

B.C. has the worst cancer outcomes in Canada and the worst wait times.

Cancer is a formidable opponent. It has affected so many of us personally, directly or indirectly, and the battle against it requires every resource at our disposal. It can kill us.

The government knew there were significant investments in cancer care needed and failed to take action. Now patients are paying with their lives.

We need a fully funded cancer care plan, and we need it now. Yesterday was already too late.

My question to you this week:

How do you feel about British Columbian patients being sent to the U.S. for cancer treatment?

I love hearing from you. Email me at [email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Busy session for Okanagan MLA

MLA lists achievements

Being in opposition isn’t easy, but it is important.

Sometimes we have to drag the government, kicking and screaming, to the right decision for the betterment of British Columbians.

As we wrap up the spring session of the British Columbia Legislature, I wanted to pause and reflect on what was achieved over the past few months. It's been an intense but rewarding session, filled with debates, dialogues and occasional breakthroughs that remind us why we're here.

One of my proudest moments was securing funding for the Starbright Children's Development Centre. The institution, a cornerstone of our community in Kelowna for more than 57 years, does remarkable work to support children with developmental challenges and their families.

Things looked dire in December without any funding for the centre yet, with the government focusing all funds for the valley on a hub model pilot project.

While the government promised other supports would be kept intact, that was not what was happening in the Okanagan valley. The parents rallied, the administration and board started to express how dire the situation was, and the Opposition MLAs sprung into action.

I had the privilege of bringing the “feelings banner”, which the parents and children created during a public rally, to Victoria. I delivered it to the premier. It's why I do what I do, to make a real, tangible difference in the lives of my constituents.

Finally the government relented and signed a new contract with Starbright for another two years.

The funding will keep the services it offers, providing much-needed support for the children and their families. The work is not complete however, as the contract was only extended by two years.

On the last day of session, Starbright’s leadership came to the Legislative Assembly to meet with government and Opposition MLAs.

When asked by the media, the minister agreed to visit, to see firsthand the work the centre does. Hopefully that will result in a more permanent solution for the funding it so desperately needs.

But why was it only on the last day of session that the minister finally agreed to come?

The events of the last day of the session continued, during the last question of Question Period when Premier David Eby finally acknowledged the necessity to consider protections for children's parks against decriminalized and open drug use.

Opposition MLAs asked questions in the house for weeks as to why drug use was allowed in playgrounds and parks, and for this to change. Many municipal advocates, including Kelowna Mayor Dyas, have asked for this measure of protection for B.C.’s kids.

The Premier's recognition is a step in the right direction, but rest assured, I will continue to press for tangible policies and actions to ensure the safety of our children and communities.

B.C. United leader Kevin Falcon declared his caucus was willing to come back to the legislature at any time this summer to pass legislation to make that measure a reality.

Passage of the Pay Transparency Bill was another significant milestone this session. The BC United caucus introduced the legislation six times and championed transparency as a means to promote gender pay equality and eradicate wage discrimination. Finally, the NDP brought in a bill during this session. Seventh time’s the charm.

While far from perfect, the the bill reaffirms our commitment to building a more equitable society, and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to support it.

As we bid goodbye to the spring session, I'm filled with gratitude and pride in what we've been able to achieve. From securing critical funding for the Starbright Children's Development Centre, advocating for safer communities, and supporting the Pay Transparency Bill, it's been a session of hard work, persistence, and progress.

When we get back to the fall session, I am committed to continuing this important work, to serve you better and make a positive difference in our community. The work we've done this session is a testament to what we can achieve together.

Having said that — I am so happy to be home. I look forward to seeing you around Kelowna and hearing firsthand what issues you are dealing with.

My question for you this week is this:

What is most pressing for you right now?

I love hearing from you and read every email you send. Email me at [email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

MLA expresses concern about watershed protection and restoration

Watershed worries

Last week saw warnings of floods throughout the Okanagan.

While we could look at the dramatic increase in temperature in a short amount of time as a logical reason, some of the flooding is a direct result to a chronic lack of planning for climate change resiliency and climate change adaptation.

Kelowna is home to a diverse ecosystem. The area relies heavily on its watersheds, which are critical for providing clean water, maintaining healthy ecosystems, and supporting local agriculture.

A watershed is an area of land that channels rainwater and snowmelt into rivers, lakes, and streams, eventually leading to a common outlet. They also maintain vital habitats for a diverse range of species, including the endangered Okanagan salmon, which depend on the waterways for spawning.

However recent events in combination — forestry practices, wildfires, and floods — have significantly impacted these essential resources.

Forestry practices can increase erosion, sedimentation, and the disruption of natural water flow patterns. The loss of vegetation also makes the land more vulnerable to wildfires, which have become more frequent and severe due to climate change. These wildfires further exacerbate the watershed's degradation by burning vegetation, leaving the soil exposed, and increasing the risk of erosion and sedimentation.

The resulting accumulation of sediment in creeks raises creek beds, reducing their capacity to carry water and increase the likelihood of flooding. Floods are yet another challenge faced by Kelowna's watersheds. Heavy rainfall events and rapid snowmelt have led to an increase in flood occurrences.

These floods not only damage the watersheds but also cause widespread destruction to homes, and infrastructure, causing significant economic losses and displacing residents.

Farmland is also severely impacted, with floods causing soil erosion, crop damage, and reduced agricultural productivity. Over the last two years, I have toured many of the areas in our watershed to see these aspects of the change in water patterns that has occurred.

Touring McMillian farms, I could see how some tertiary streams were no longer active as sediment prevents the water from entering. This blockage causes water levels in Mission Creek to rise, flooding valuable farmable land. Additionally, flood waters have threatened homes along Mission Creek in the KLO area more times in recent years than not. The creek bed has risen so much through sediment deposits that the capacity of the creek’s flow has diminished. With nowhere to go, the waters flood that entire area.

Additionally, the degradation of watersheds poses a significant threat to Kelowna's wildlife, particularly the Okanagan salmon. Increased sedimentation of the waterways disrupts its spawning habitats, which can lead to a decline in salmon populations.

Recently, I urged the Minister of Water, Land and Resources to see the importance of the Okanagan Lake watershed and the devastating consequences of degradation, and take action. The province needs to prioritize watershed mapping and contribute funds for mitigation.

We can all see degradation of Kelowna's watersheds is partly attributable to the lack of coordination among various layers of government. Federal, provincial, and municipal authorities each have jurisdiction over different aspects of watershed management, and the absence of a cohesive strategy has resulted in a stagnation of critical watershed mapping efforts. This paralysis has hindered the development and implementation of effective policies and programs that could help mitigate the impacts of forestry, fires, and floods on the region's watersheds.

To achieve meaningful progress in protecting and restoring Kelowna's watersheds, it is imperative all levels of government work collaboratively to develop a comprehensive and coordinated approach that prioritizes watershed health and resilience.

I will continue to meet with ministry staff to find funds, while working with various stakeholders to bring together a united voice.

The importance of watersheds in Kelowna cannot be overstated.

My question to you is this:

What changes have you seen in the Okanagan’s watershed over the years?

I love hearing from you and read every email received. Email me at [email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Insider wrong choice as new BC Housing boss says MLA

BC Housing needs outsider

Last week's announcement of a new CEO for BC Housing has raised concerns among those who have long been advocating for change in the way our province addresses housing issues.

This “new” CEO came from inside BC Housing, having served as the interim CEO after the sudden departure of the previous chief executive in August 2022.

While the appointment of someone from within the organization may bring stability and familiarity, it is a missed opportunity to bring in the fresh perspective needed to overhaul the company's approach to affordable housing.

BC Housing has experienced a mass exodus of employees and a damning audit that flagged money was not tracked or accounted for properly, in addition to the chronic under performance of the company. A complete overhaul of inefficiencies, nepotism, and bad policy decisions was needed.

BC Housing was in desperate need for transformation. Introducing a CEO from outside the organization has proven to be a successful strategy for many companies seeking to reinvent themselves and drive positive change.

External candidates bring a wealth of diverse experiences and ideas that can challenge long-standing assumptions and inspire innovation. They often possess a unique ability to view the organization objectively, identifying inefficiencies and opportunities for improvement that may have gone unnoticed by insiders.

In the case of BC Housing, an external CEO could have been the catalyst needed to revolutionize the organization's approach to affordable housing and truly make a difference in the lives of British Columbians.

BC Housing has a history of building and buying properties at costs that far exceed the market value.

These extravagant expenses, funded by taxpayers, have done little to address the actual housing crisis that so many British Columbians face.

We need BC Housing to prioritize cost-effective solutions and maximizes the impact of every dollar spent.

The government announced a housing plan in 2018 that was to deliver 114,000 affordable homes to B.C. in 10 years. That has not been a promise it kept, having delivered only 11% of the homes promised homes in year six of 10. That promise disappeared from this year’s budget and the relaunch of the new housing plan.

Our need for affordable housing in British Columbia has reached a boiling point. With skyrocketing rental prices and an ever-increasing number of residents facing homelessness, it is clear the status quo is simply not working. The housing crisis affects every corner of our province, including Kelowna and demands a strategic and well-coordinated response that truly addresses the diverse needs of our population.

We must focus on fresh and common sense approaches to delivering affordable housing, and this requires the leadership of someone who can bring new ideas and energy to the table. By appointing an insider as the new CEO, we risk perpetuating the same failed strategies that have characterized BC Housing's efforts for years.

As the MLA for Kelowna Mission, I have witnessed firsthand the struggles of families and individuals who are desperate for safe, affordable homes.

In opposition, I advocate for change and insist BC Housing be a driving force in solving this crisis. For BC Housing to truly transform and become the catalyst for change that our province desperately needs, we must begin by bringing in new leadership with a fresh perspective. Only then can we hope to effectively address the pressing housing crisis and build a future where every British Columbian has access to a safe and affordable place to call home.

We can’t afford more of the same from the government and BC Housing.

My question to you is this:

Do you think that BC Housing is succeeding in delivering affordable houses?

I love hearing from you and read every email that I get. Please email me at [email protected] or call my office at 250-712-3620.

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna Mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More MLA Minute articles

About the Author

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna - Mission and the Opposition critic for Environment and Climate Change, as well as Gender, Equity and Inclusion.  She currently serves on the Select Standing Committee for Finance as well.

A long-time resident of Kelowna, Renee started, and continues to lead, many businesses from construction and development to technology. Renee is a compassionate individual who cares about others in the community, believes in giving back and helping those in need through service.

She values your feedback and conversation, and can be reached at [email protected] or 250.712.3620

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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