Cuts injure Bella Coola medical patients

About 100 women per year will lose mammography screening services in their community, when BC Ferries Route 40 is cancelled in April, 2014.

Dear editor,

About 100 women per year will lose mammography screening services in their community, when BC Ferries Route 40, from Bella Coola to Port Hardy, is cancelled in April, 2014.

Currently, Bella Coola residents can get mammograms through the Mobile Screening Mammography Program of BC. BC Ferries carries the mammography van, with the equipment, into the community. Losing the ferry service means losing the visits, as the only road — from Williams Lake to Bella Coola — is too bumpy to safely transport the medical equipment by van.

The United Church Health Services Society (UCHSS), which governs Bella Coola General Hospital and medical clinic, has deep concerns about the impact of BC Ferries “service adjustments” on the health of the region. The loss of in-community mammography services means the hospital must ask government to find another $50,000 for transportation, so women can access mammograms elsewhere.

Because of the ferries cut, we believe fewer women will get screened for breast cancer, as they’ll need to travel to do so. The immediate health consequences of losing the Bella Coola-Port Hardy route are jarring. One of Canada’s great successes has been providing excellent health care in rural and remote settings. We are recognized, international leaders in this. The medical staff and administration at The United Church Health Services Society are distressed that health delivery and health outcomes were not considerations in cancelling this route.

In addition to losing the mammogram program, the UCHSS is gravely concerned that the loss of the ferry will mean loss of tourism for Bella Coola. As logging and fishing have declined over the past several decades, tourism has become the region’s primary economic driver, and it was growing.

While it’s unusual for a health agency to speak out about tourism, in Bella Coola it’s a core employer. For many families, tourism has become an opportunity to grow a small business. We know that income and health are inextricably linked. Less employment here ultimately will mean poorer health in this community.

Finally, UCHSS anticipates that the loss of the ferry service will significantly impede efforts to recruit and retain health care professionals for Bella Coola. Recruitment is already a challenge in BC’s small communities.

The administration at UCHSS is hopeful that BC Ferries and the Ministry of Transportation will recognize the importance of Route 40 to the health of Bella Coola residents, and reinstate ferry service to this community.

Lynn Nelson,

UCHSS board chair

Mary Jean Morrison, UCHSS CEO

Dr. Peter Newbery, UCHSS Medical Director