More than 100 seniors who are currently enrolled in the cardiac rehabilitation maintenance program at White Rock’s Centre for Active Living took to the streets outside Peace Arch Hospital Thursday to express their frustration about impending changes to the program, which they fear could herald its demise.
Fraser Health, however, is adamant that there are no plans to terminate the optional maintenance program.
In a letter to Peace Arch News, published in this edition, PAH executive director Teresa O’Callaghan states, “we are proud of the success of this program, and we share our passion with long-time participants.
“That is why we are enhancing the program to create additional space for South Surrey and White Rock residents who are currently on a waiting list,” she writes.
Protesters were asking that Fraser Health Authority and Peace Arch Hospital impose a six-month moratorium on the planned Jan. 1 implementation of the changes to the maintenance program, which has provided exercise regimens specifically geared to the needs of cardiac event survivors for some 15 years.
And they said they wanted more transparency on the reasons, noting that their concerns were largely fuelled by learning only indirectly that changes were in the offing – which has led to wide interpretation of the changes as a first step in cancelling the program entirely.
“We view this as a last-ditch effort to retain the program,” said Edward Gilbert, who described himself as a “concerned program participant.”
As of Friday, according to a summary of a meeting with FHA staff shared by with users by their delegate committee chair Ian Puchlik, the goal of FHA is to “continue the (maintenance) program indefinitely.”
But program fees are to increase slightly and the Jan. 1 implementation date is firm, since FHA wants to start addressing waiting lists for recent event survivors by that date, Puchlik said.
Fraser Health is also negotiating with the City of White Rock, from which it leases Centre For Active Living space, for facilities to accommodate users displaced from desired class times, he said, and also with the City of Surrey to establish a similar program there.
Fraser Health spokespeople and Peace Arch Hospital staff insist they have been transparent with users about the changes. Further they insist that, not only are they not changing the maintenance program, they have backed off on an original intention to rename it simply an exercise program (which has been of concern to seniors who have been claiming their program fees as a health expense tax deduction).
What is changing, they say, is scheduling of existing classes at the Centre for Active Living, as resources are refocused on enlarging the 16-week acute cardio rehabilitation program at the hospital’s Vine Street clinic, to provide greater capacity for initial support for new cardiac event survivors.
“We had exercise specialists travelling back and forth between the two places, and we wanted to increase access to resources for acute cardiac patients in the Vine building,” O’Callaghan told PAN in a recent interview.
“We had dead space at Vine, and empty classes at the Centre for Active Living.”
Also changing is the fee structure for maintenance program classes which, while not finalized, will increase from $6.50 per session to around $8 per session, which Fraser Health spokesperson Dixon Tam maintained is the first increase to charges in 10 years.
“Our focus is on increasing efficiency and streamlining the process, to shorten waiting lists and make the (initial) program more accessible to recent cardiac event patients,” said Dr. Jane Wu, head of internal medicine at PAH.
“The goal is not to take something away from the community – accessibility is key,” she said, adding that it’s crucial for new patients to be enrolled in the initial support program within 30 days – and certainly no longer than 60 days after – their cardiac event.
While protesting participants say that they are in the maintenance program specifically because it has been recommended to them by their cardiologists, O’Callaghan told PAN that the intention was always to provide survivors with initial counselling on healthy exercise geared to their condition.
And while some participants have said that changes in class scheduling may lead to hardships in attending, or to dropping them entirely, O’Callaghan said staff are “bending over backwards to accommodate them” in new scheduling.
All current participants in the maintenance program have been “grandfathered” into the maintenance program she said.