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New, privatized health clinic will weaken public system: analyst

Seymour Health Centre given $7 million contract by Vancouver Coastal Health to operate care centre
Seymour Health Centre

The privatization of a new health clinic by Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) is “deeply concerning on a number of levels,” according to government policy analyst Alex Hemingway of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

A $7 million contract provided by the health authority to for-profit company Seymour Health Centre to operate the recently opened City Centre Urgent Primary Care Centre is unlikely to produce better care – while costing more money in the long term, contends a report from Hemingway.

Furthermore, Hemingway sees the VCH model as being a Trojan Horse of sorts for a more powerful private medical lobbying industry in B.C.

“Canada’s largely private (and highly inefficient) system of pharmaceutical drug coverage is a prime example of this lobbying power in action, as is the privatized and staggeringly inefficient U.S. health care system,” said Hemingway.

The idea of a UPCC is to alleviate emergency rooms from patients in need of non-emergency medical care, such as treatment for minor wounds, fever or dehydration.

And, last November, B.C. Minister of Health Adrian Dix touted UPCCs as able to “better connect local residents with the primary care they need.”

Dix didn’t respond to Glacier Media’s request for comment on Hemingway’s report.

Hemingway raised the fact the health authority spent $2 million on facility upgrades in addition to the centre’s lease payments through to April 1, 2020.

“It appears to have used public dollars to enhance a privately owned real estate asset.This is an unwise use of public capital investment dollars that could instead be invested in publicly owned assets,” stated Hemingway in a statement.

It is not known how exactly Seymour Health will profit from the contract, said Hemingway, when asked.

He speculated the $2 million in overhead costs paid by the government at the start of the contract could assist Seymour’s bottom line.

Notably, regardless of who runs the UPCC, public insurance will cover patient costs.

Sabi Bining owns Seymour Health as well as a medical equipment sales company, West Care Medical.

Seymour Health vice-president of operations Tim Buckley deferred questions to a spokesperson, who was unable to respond in time for publication.

The company, said Hemingway, is also interested in another UPCC contract for a site near 57th Avenue and Cambie Street. VCH will have to lease that space as well, after the provincial government sold the land as part of province-wide selloff of Crown land to developers.

Hemingway’s group advocates for public health care and cites its own research claiming “public and not-for-profit providers deliver better health outcomes than their private counterparts in hospitals and surgical clinics, seniors’ care and primary care.”

Neither the Ministry of Health nor VCH have stated the benefits of outsourcing the UPCC services (other health authorities are operating their UPCCs directly).

Eric Cadesky, president of Doctors of B.C., didn’t say whether the contract with Seymour was a fair deal for private practices or the contracted physicians.

“Doctors have long paid for a significant portion of the health care infrastructure,” he said. “There’s rent, staff, equipment. We know of family practices that are closing down due to these overhead costs.”

A new Physician Master Agreement with the government recognizes the rising overhead costs of doctors’ offices, he said.

However, salaried physicians can work in some communities, he said.

The VCH contract stipulates doctors will need to be paid according to rates set by the Ministry of Health. A salaried doctor will make $251,000. But there will be no funding for professional development.


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