Feb 10, 2009

What the FCUCC?!


More on the culture of entitlement…

Mark Godley is the founder and head honcho of False Creek Surgical Clinic, one of the largest companies in BC providing a range of surgical and medical services, including women’s health and gynecology, plastic surgery, pain management, cardiology, colonoscopies, general surgery, you name it, they’ve got it. Like Copeman, Godley wants to sell his stuff through a national network of facilities operating in “a competitive, free marketplace”.

Godley is a complicated investor, associated with a number of entities. One of them is Surgical Spaces, Inc., a management company that oversees two surgical facilities in which he is the medical director. The CEO of SS Inc., is one Anna Stylianides, whose interests appear to cover both surgical services and mining, a natural fit some might say. Stylianides, who sits on the board of directors of Callinan Mining, Ltd., brings her expertise in mergers and acquisitions, financial restructuring and — oh look, national expansion strategies

But then there’s National Surgery, Inc., another Godley linked company whose website greets you with this sizzling enticement: “Choose your destination”. Here you are linked to the two surgical facilities managed by Surgical Spaces: Vancouver’s False Creek (“The Face of Things to Come”) and Winnipeg’s Maples (“We Accept US Patients”). Click on one and you are transported (mind-wise) to either location. If you want False Creek’s staff to book a hotel (the Westin Grand Hotel, say) they can do so “using our corporate discount rate”.

But wait! What if you need URGENT care, not just slow-poke old surgery? Well, now there is the False Creek Urgent Care Centre — FCUCC (rhymes with hiccuck) — set up in 2006 by Godley as an extension of False Creek Surgical and ostensibly for people (like, uh, everyone) who don’t want to wait in the hospital ER of their choice.

FCUCC’s four owners — Godley, Rael Klein, Tony Massolin and Stylianides who is also the CEO — caused quite a stir when they opened. That’s because they were charging outrageous prices to cross FCUCC’s threshhold — $199 instead of the standard MSC payment to hospitals of $60-$80. To get around the laws (remember those?) that require opted out physicians to bill only the amount in the Medical Services Plan’s fee schedule, FCUCC said its physicians were from out-of-province and were unenrolled (as opposed to opted out) and therefore could charge pretty much what they liked. In fact, they had to charge that amount because, according to a spokesperson for the company, the higher fees were necessary to get the return on investment that the owners were expecting. They are, after all, entitled — why would they set up a business that didn’t return a profit?

So what exactly is “urgent care”? According to trusty Wikipedia, it’s ambulatory care provided in a facility outside of a hospital emergency department, “usually on an unscheduled, walk-in basis”. Surrey North’s then-MP, Penny Priddy (NDP), called FCUCC the “American-like clinic” and that’s not far off the mark. According to Omni Health Care, a US company with a similarly named “Urgent Care Centre”, these services are for people who, like Omni, understand that “minor emergencies don’t wait for a convenient time to visit your doctor”. (Whoa, dude, that is so true.) And FCUCC “can offer a referral to our extensive specialist consultation and surgical services”, a convenient urgent care launch pad into a profitable pool of providers.

Hmmm…what does our health minister say about all this? George Abbott’s statement was so dry you wanted to cough as soon as you read it. “It would appear,” he said, “we would have no basis for any legal action against the clinic.” Hack, hack.

What should he be saying? Well, first of all, no doctor should be able to practice on both sides of the medicare fence. All that would be required is a simple amendment to the Medicare Protection Act.

Secondly, Abbott could be pushing his own government to fund 24/7 multi-disclipinary health care centres throughout the province. (Duh.) According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), Canada had the highest percentage of respondents to an international poll who said they could have received their emergency care from a regular physician in a non-emergency setting (like a 24/7 multidisciplinary community health centre). While FCUCC says it’s providing “urgent care”, most of Canada’s emergency department visits are for less- or non-urgent care, and it’s likely Godley’s outfit offers services that fall under that heading. The only difference is the arm-and-a-leg character of FCUCC’s fees. But these services could and should be provided in publicly-funded settings that are accessible without point-of-service charges.

British Columbians should be entitled to these services without having to fork over cash in an emergency (urgency?). But what should we be doing in preparation for the election in May to ensure the government is on the road most British Columbians have suggested they want?