PORT HARDY—The Vancouver Island Health Authority board of directors was light on promises last week during its annual appearance on the North Island. But Dr. Robert Burns, executive medical director for Vancouver Island’s health-delivery authority, did confirm steps would be taken in the coming months toward a comprehensive, long-term solution to acute care in Port Hardy.
“Ideally, we’d like to get to a single-facility model to provide service, with doctors, nurse practitioners and nursing all under one roof,” said Burns, who spoke during the VIHA board’s appearance at the Mount Waddington Health Network Forum at the Civic Centre. “There are still elements to settle around capital costs and best practices, and we’ll continue talking with the Health Network and providers on the North Island.
“But we’re clearly going to need short-term solutions.”
To that end, Burns said an expansion is planned for one of Port Hardy’s medical clinic in the coming months that will expand health-care access to patients in an area that has been plagued by an ongoing physician shortage. The departure of three local physicians in recent months has exacerbated VIHA’s difficulty in making good on a promise it made last year to have a plan in place by this autumn to prevent rolling closures of the Port Hardy Hospital emergency room.
“They’re having a huge problem with recruitment and retention (of physicians),” Port Hardy Mayor Bev Parnham said. “The idea is, if you have a better model for people to work in, they will come.”
As a result of last year’s occasionally contentious VIHA meeting on the North Island, a Local Working Group of health-care professionals and local government representatives was formed. The LWG presented its recommendations to VIHA this spring, and Burns said the board is committed to making good on the bulk of those recommendations.
Chief among them is the ultimate establishment of a one-stop, clinical health-care facility in Port Hardy with all providers essentially under one roof. Burns admitted that reality may be as far as two years away, but that VIHA is committed in the next few months to having a facsimile of that model in place on an interim basis, possibly involving an expansion of the current clinic of Dr. Howard Chi-Hung Lee.
Burns said no timetable has been set to begin remodelling or construction.
“We want to be sure everyone will be properly served, and that includes making sure Dr. Lee is held harmless,” he said. “But this is something we need to get in place in the next few months.”
The VIHA board appeared during the final portion of the Health Network Forum, which otherwise was devoted to reproductive health and birthing issues on the North Island.
The forum began with presentations by nurses Rebecca Olesen and Pam Rardon on childbirth statistics among North Vancouver Island residents, most of whom travel down-Island to deliver. They were followed by Dr. Stefan Grzybowski, who presented a keynote address that asked how birthing services in the Mount Waddington region could be improved.
That was followed by a panel discussion led by Olesen, Rardon and Chaundra Willms.
During the break for lunch, Sandra Waarne, the outgoing coordinator of the Health Network, was presented a carved paddle and was honoured in a series of speeches by people who recognized her contribution to the creation of the independent consultative body.
She was presented the gift by Alyson Hagen-Johnson, co-chair of the Network, and by Gail Franklin, who steps in to assume Waarne’s post after holding a similar job in the Fraser Valley.
The Health Network then introduced the VIHA board and made its presentation to the board before opening a brief question and answer period.