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Province dumps Fraser Health board chair

Fraser Health board chair David Mitchell has been suddenly replaced. Wynne Powell will take over on an interim basis. - Black Press file photo
Fraser Health board chair David Mitchell has been suddenly replaced. Wynne Powell will take over on an interim basis.
— image credit: Black Press file photo

The provincial government has suddenly replaced Fraser Health board chair David Mitchell as it continues a probe into budget overruns at B.C.'s biggest health authority.

Wynne Powell, the longtime chair of the Provincial Health Services Authority, will take over on an interim basis.

The move comes more than five months into a strategic and operational review ordered into Fraser by the province as a result of its recurring failure to stay within its budget allocations.

"We felt it was important to have new leadership on the board – fresh eyes to implement any of the recommendations that come out of this review," Health Minister Terry Lake said Wednesday of the decision to install Powell.

"We're relying on his abilities to bring about changed management, which will be necessary with Fraser Health going through this review process."

Fraser has been receiving six per cent a year budget increases in recent years – more than 4.8 per cent at other B.C. health regions – and Lake previously said that's too far out of line with the region's population increases of 1.3 per cent annually.

The large number of older residents in the region are expected to intensify pressure on Fraser's budget in the years ahead, and Lake said there are other challenges, including a diverse, rapidly growing population that's split between urban and rural areas.

NDP health critic Judy Darcy said she hopes the review is broadened to take a more detailed look at what she called the ongoing crises in front-line health care.

"I hope the fresh eyes are are not only about doing the government's bidding and making sure the budget is balanced," Darcy said.

"Fraser Health has significant needs and just a budget-cutting exercise is not going to improve health care."

The last incident of unexpected turnover of a Fraser board chair happened in 2007, when then-chair Keith Purchase quit and Vancouver Coastal's chair was fired by the province. They had warned Victoria that inadequate budgets for the Lower Mainland health regions would lead to a care crisis.

Mitchell served for three and a half years as chair of Fraser's board.

In an upbeat statement issued by Fraser, Mitchell said health authority staff are passionate, determined and optimistic "despite operating in challenging circumstances."

He credited their willingness to "confront challenges with innovation and openness to look at doing things differently."

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