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North Island candidates speak out on: Rural health care
The provincial election is on May 14. This week the Mirror asked the North Island’s three candidates:
A state-of-the-art hospital is about to be built in Campbell River, but how would your party improve health care in the small, rural communities of the North Island, and is there more we can do to attract health professionals to these areas?
The declining numbers and churn of doctors is a constant conversation on the North Island. With reduced rural jobs and working family population, doctors aren’t staying.
Some are leaving for quality of family life while others for greater income. Retaining doctors in rural communities is a challenge in normal times, and only gets harder during recessions.
There are rural retention programs in place, providing alternate fee arrangements to offset higher costs and lower revenues; these were just recently revised to include an incentive for Port Hardy to provide two general practitioner doctors with a one-time payment when they commit to a three-year return of service. This special program was made available in 17 rural communities designated as being under served.
Also, late last year, nurse practitioners were given expanded roles to off-load doctors, creating an opportunity to make the health care system more efficient, especially in rural communities, by saving doctors, nurses and patients time.
Nurse practitioners can diagnose, prescribe and order diagnostic tests to treat common medical conditions, as well as admit and discharge patients.
Maximizing the benefits of the above are clearly an opportunity for an active, engaged MLA willing to spend time travelling the North Island; – that would be natural for me.
Additionally, there is an ongoing phase in of the First Nations Health Authority, a federally funded First Nations health organization that is set to take over responsibility for all aboriginal health services in B.C.
We have some extremely progressive and highly inclusive First Nations on the North Island. I would respectively engage on this topic with First Nations to see if there is opportunity for working together for mutual gains in community health care.
To improve health care in the North Island, I would work with the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) to get the mobile MRI clinic to travel to Port Hardy and nearby communities.
It now travels as far north as Campbell River, but Campbell River is at the geographic centre of Vancouver Island, so the mobile MRI clinic is not yet serving the northern half of Vancouver Island.
The need for health professions is acute right now in Port Hardy where the family practice case load and the emergency ward rotations require six general practitioners (GPs), but there are only two in town. Neighbouring Port McNeill has six GPs for a smaller population. So the need is greatest in Port Hardy.
VIHA has put extra resources into a solution by retaining a professional recruiter to canvas northern rural communities in other provinces to find likely candidates. The search, unfortunately, has come up empty.
A number of other things have been tried, including financial incentives and recruiting foreign-trained doctors. These are all useful, but more thinking is needed.
If elected I would explore further solutions. I want to know if the regional Health Network, as good as it is, provides Port Hardy with influence comparable to that provided by its pre-VIHA hospital board of directors.
I also want to know if effective strategies are in place to train native health practitioners to the level of GPs, nurse practitioners, sole-charge physiotherapists, occupational therapists and mental health counsellors who would work on a long term basis in their small, rural communities.
Since first being elected, I’ve been committed to getting quality health care throughout the North Island. Six years ago I started the hospital stakeholders group – of citizens, local politicians, doctors and other health care workers.
We won the battle for a new Campbell River hospital, but we continue to lobby to ensure we have the services and the beds to meet our needs.
The approach to the North Island’s health care needs over the last 12 years, has been one of crisis intervention rather than sensible planning. For instance, the Port Hardy emergency room has seen rotating closures because of doctor shortages; each time I raised the issue it was eventually resolved.
Rather than ignore these serious recurring problems, rural health care is a key part of the BCNDP’s platform. We are committed to improving rural health care access in a practical and affordable manner.
We will improve access to multi-disciplinary teams: including nurse practitioners, rehabilitation specialists, psychologist, social workers and midwives.
We will develop a Rural Acute Care Initiative to improve acute care and emergency services in targeted hospitals, rebuilding basic surgery, obstetrics, diagnostics and critical care.
And we will invest in proper home care, so wherever possible people get the care they need in their own homes rather than in a hospital.
To sum up our position in a sentence, the BCNDP have comprehensive, costed policies to improve rural health care that we will implement if we form government.