British Columbia

B.C. surgery centre up for sale, according to quarterly report

One of the largest private surgical centres in the province appears to be for sale — according to a quarterly report issued by the corporation that owns False Creek Healthcare Centre in Vancouver.

False Creek’s business model was dependent on government contracts and those were pulled, says Day

Signals that the False Creek Healthcare centre will be sold come less than a year after Vancouver Coastal Health ended its contract to pay for patients to be treated at the facility. (Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images)

One of the largest private surgery centres in the province appears to be for sale — according to a quarterly report issued by the corporation that owns False Creek Healthcare Centre in Vancouver.

The Vancouver centre was sold to Centric Health Corporation eight years ago.

Centric recently told its shareholders the five healthcare centres it owns in BC, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario are up for sale. The quarterly report also refers to risks to the private surgery businesses, including an on-going trial in B.C. and current NDP government policies,

Hard sell in 'hostile' environment

In the past three years, the number of private clinics in B.C. has dropped from 64 to 53, according to figures from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C.

Publicly-filed financial reports say Centric's surgery and medical services operations are showing "soft" profits, so the company is looking to home health care, pharmacy dispensing and a potential alliance with Canopy Growth, a cannabis company.

The False Creek Surgery Centre opened in 1998 and was sold for $24-million in 2011 to Centric Health, along with a sister facility.

Today, analysts estimate each clinic could sell for closer to $40-million.

Centric CEO David Murphy says he's not in a position to directly comment on any potential sale but confirmed Centric is in the process of "establishing a more focused strategic direction to establish the company as the leading provider of pharmacy and other health-care services to Canadian seniors."

"Our divestiture strategy is driven entirely by this new strategic direction and not in any way by the performance of a particular asset or the political climate in any specific province," he said in a statement to CBC.

However, Douglas Loe, an analyst with a specialty in health care at Echelon Wealth Partners confirmed: "Centric's Surgical and Medical Centres operations are indeed now categorized as discontinued operations and held for sale."

Dr. Brian Day says False Creek surgery's business model was dependent on government contracts and when those were pulled a sale was inevitable. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Signals the False Creek Healthcare centre will be sold come less than a year after Vancouver Coastal Health ended its contract to pay for patients to be treated at the facility.

The move to "repatriate" surgical activity back to health authorities kicked in in the fall of 2018, cutting off operating room access at the clinic for 115 surgeons and anesthesiologists.

This came a month before new legislation was scheduled to kick in imposing penalties on private clinics and physicians when medically necessary services are paid for by patients seeking faster treatments.

While news of the sale seemed to be a surprise to both the province and Susan Prins, the spokeswoman for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C., it was no shock to others.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix has recently suggested the province may purchase some private surgical centres to deal with long wait-lists. (False Creek Healthcare Centre )

Dr. Brian Day, with the Cambie Surgery Centre in Vancouver, suspected it would happen, because, he says, False Creek's business model was dependent on government contracts — and those were pulled.

"They are not very profitable is the bottom line. The myth out there that these clinics were built to create profits … is absolutely false. They were built because doctors couldn't get operating time in the public hospitals."

Day has long fought for a mix of private and public health care in B.C. 

But he says private clinics will be difficult to sell in what he described as an environment that is "hostile" to them.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix has recently suggested the province may purchase some private surgical centres as surgery wait-lists continue to grow.

As more surgical centres close, Day says, more patients will be added to long public wait-lists. He argues that patients suffer.

Day's Cambie Surgery Corp. was the lead plaintiff in both an injunction to stop the B.C. government from activating new legislation to penalize private clinics and a slow-moving constitutional challenge of provincial medicare laws.

A B.C. Supreme Court justice has reserved a decision on the injunction case.

The constitutional challenge is expected to wrap up with closing arguments by the fall of 2019 with a decision expected by mid 2020.

B.C.'s Health Ministry has long argued in court that private clinics are violating the Medicare Protection Act but were not immediately available for comment about the surgical centres for sale.

Day and others insist they are needed, as evidenced by the more than 200,000 Canadians who sought private health care outside the country in 2018.

About the Author

Yvette Brend is a Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@cbc.ca or on Twitter or Instagram @ybrend

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