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B.C. organization calls for more supports in rural healthcare sector

The BC Rural Health Network says rural healthcare crisis a ‘significant safety concern’
Slocan Community Health Centre (pictured) emergency room is facing temporary service reductions. This is just one of many rural health centres that are experiencing staffing and other issues. Black Press File photo.

A rural B.C. organization is calling for more supports in the healthcare sector as services continue to be removed and reduced, and staffing challenges intensify.

The BC Rural Health Network (BCRHN) says they are overwhelmed with public complaints, concerns and reports of serious health impacts that the reduction of services has created.

“The healthcare crisis in rural B.C. has become a significant safety concern,” the organization said in a press release. “Every day, rural residents’ wellbeing is being affected.”

Peggy Skelton, President of the BCRHN, says she has listened to the public outcry, calls for action and investment in rural areas.

“Our membership and the residents of rural B.C. cannot continue to have services taken or diverted to support larger urban populations,” she said. “B.C. rural communities are continually used as a buffer for staff shortages in larger centres and the negative impact on rural residents compounds.

“Imagine the situation where there is an emergency and the nearest facility is a considerable distance away, sometimes hours away. You try to get to your health care facility, only to find the facility is now on diversion. Furthermore, the ambulances that transport people in an emergency are now much further away from their bases. Their ability to respond can increase by hours, not minutes. It is unacceptable and unsafe.”

The union representing 911 call takers at E-Comm recently announced that five-minute wait times for emergency services are now “the new normal”. In an open letter, the union warned that the emergency call system is “broken” and funding is the answer.

In New Denver, Mayor Leonard Casley has been fighting to keep his community’s services for the last 20 years, BCRHN says. Casley says he’s never seen the system so bad before.

“Last week, the Interior Health Authority reduced our emergency operating hours to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week (again and indefinitely), which leaves our residents and surrounding catchment without any night-time ER,” said Casley.

“It is just a matter of time before people lose their life. Going into this last long weekend there was one available ambulance attendant for our community, the community of Nakusp and the entire surrounding populations. They’re moving our nurses to cover other sites and that leaves us short.”

Skelton says this issue isn’t exclusive the Kootenays, but spans across the province from the tip of Vancouver Island to Northern B.C.

“It’s province-wide and it’s getting worse. The centralization of services cannot include the centralization of the management of services. When centralization occurred and communities lost control of their own facilities, we saw an immediate change within rural B.C.,” she said, adding that management should involve communities. “Rural communities need their administrator of a local hospital or emergency care facility to be accountable to that community. Then, you can guarantee that nurses, physicians, and healthcare providers wouldn’t be shipped out to larger centres to fill a gap while leaving their community with no services.”

Skelton suggests leaning on the volunteer base to seek input on a community level. She says that in order for solutions to be implemented, rural residents need to be involved.

“Investment in grassroots community programs, investment in recruitment of rural students into healthcare, investment in new approaches, investment in rural participation in health, generally, is not happening,” she said. “This is causing major problems for rural communities, but the lack of rural investment impacts the wellbeing of us all.”

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Corey Bullock

About the Author: Corey Bullock

Corey Bullock is a multimedia journalist and writer who grew up in Burlington, Ontario.
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