The community of Delta will continue to have hospice beds despite the provincial government removing the Delta Hospice Society from the picture.
That’s what Health Minister Adrian Dix assured in an interview with the Optimist Tuesday following his announcement earlier in the day that his government has given the leadership of the society one year’s notice that the province will be terminating its contract.
The Ladner facility will continue to receive funding and be allowed to operate until then.
The move comes after Fraser Health was unable to convince the new society board to be in compliance with a policy to allow Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) at the Irene Thomas Hospice in Ladner. Dix said the society is in breach of its contract for denying something that’s legal and people have the right to access.
“It’s on Feb. 25, 2021. That gives them time to decide as an organization what they might like to do and gives us time, consistent with the contract, to ensure hospice services are going on in the interim and to ensure there’s a continuation of care until that date,” Dix told the Optimist.
“I’m very respectful of people who have differences and don’t wish to participate, but you can choose not to participate but you can’t choose not to participate and continue to be funded for these services. We have to ensure these services are provided and I think the people of Delta will appreciate that,” he said.
Dix noted the contract had provided Delta Hospice Society approximately $1.5 million annually, covering 94 per cent of the society’s costs to operate the 10-bed hospice.
The community raised millions to construct the buildings that are on land owned by Fraser Health.
After the termination, hospice beds will still be provided, perhaps even at the current facility.
Dix suggested the hospice society’s $1 annual lease with Fraser Health stipulates a publicly-funded facility must operate at the site, so the current buildings don’t have to be shuttered and may instead be turned over to public management.
“That’s an issue Fraser Health has some time to work on, 365 days in fact. I will say this: I think a lot of people will want to continue to have hospice services there. Fraser Health could run it but we haven’t decided. We want to be respectful of people and their differences and that continues today,” he said.
As far as the potential scenario of a new society board that’s more favourable to MAiD being voted in before the contract is terminated in 2021, Dix, who said he harbors no animosity toward the society, indicated his government would still terminate the contract.
“I was asked at the press conference maybe people from the other side of the debate should get a big number of people and take it back over, but that wouldn’t be any good either. This is not the way we should make decisions… I believe that most people in Delta agree with this, that we shouldn’t be setting up an ongoing fight over controlling Delta Hospice Society and individuals’ right to access a legal and publicly available facility. That’s not how we should do these things.”
In 2016, the federal government passed legislation permitting medical assistance in dying. Fraser Health approved its policy later that year that mandates hospices provide the procedure.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Ladner hospice but Dix’s announcement appears to mark the beginning of the end of the society running things.
The society has been in turmoil for some time over MAiD. A month after trying to hold an annual general, which was described as a fiasco, the society last November held a second packed and heated AGM at Genesis Theatre, a meeting that saw many newly signed-up members vote in a board opposed to MAiD.
The new board promptly reversed a decision made a week prior by the previous board to allow the procedure, setting it on a collision course with Fraser Health, which set a Feb. 3 deadline.
Board present Angelina Ireland at the time said their decision was based on two independent legal opinions that MAiD is not compatible with the society’s purposes as stated in its constitution.
She maintained MAiD is completely incompatible with palliative hospice care.
Complaining the board was hijacked by a small group imposing their religious views, those opposed to Ireland countered there’s nothing in the society’s constitution or mandate specifically opposed to MAiD.
“Putting the patient first is what matters most. Patients make decisions about medical services in consultation with their doctor and their family. No organization can influence this decision or impose it. I respect anyone’s right to disagree, and no one has ever required hospice staff to deliver medical assistance in dying, but they must allow eligible residents who want the service to access it,” Dix stated.
Noting the government isn’t looking for a fight and decided to issue notice of contract termination without cause, which it’s entitled to do, Dix also told the Optimist he has no problem when it comes to government being a funding partner with private groups in health care, and there’s numerous examples of mixed models.
The Optimist reached out to Ireland for comment but didn’t get a response by the time this story was to run.
Ireland told Canadian Press that there wasn’t any consultation between the care facility, Fraser Health and the Health Ministry.
She also told CP that if the government wants to implement medical help in dying then it should create facilities for people who want the procedure and that the hospice will look at its legal and other options to continue serving patients and families in their final days.
Delta South Liberal MLA Ian Paton said it is unfortunate things came to this point and that the government appears ready to take over a facility the community worked so hard to build.
- with files from Canadian Press
The government noted that in the last three years, more than 3,000 British Columbians made the choice to have MAiD.