A health-care rally drew hundreds of frustrated residents from all over northern Vancouver Island to the Town of Port McNeill on Saturday, March 11.
It’s no secret there’s been a major health-care crisis in the region for years now. The Port McNeill Hospital was the first to suffer emergency room closures before the situation finally stabilized thanks to having enough staff to reopen with 24/7 service again, but then the hospital emergency rooms in Port Hardy and Cormorant Island started having their own staffing issues, which forced both hospitals to shut down overnight services for the time being.
Regardless of staffing issues, North Island residents were loud and clear at the rally that their voices have been ignored for too long by Island Health.
The rally was organized by Port McNeill resident Fran Jenkins and her team of supporters, and she said she was thrilled by the amount of people who showed up to speak out.
Jenkins said she was inspired to start the rally because of stories she’d been hearing about Island Health in all of the local communities.
“The harder we dug and found more stories, with no explanations and no direct corrections coming so things didn’t happen again, I felt we needed to get together as a group with one voice to be heard,” she said, before noting she wanted the rally to be used as a method of getting important information out to local residents and that she wants to “hear from people, I want to hear from lots and lots of people” in the communities.
“We’re not here bashing Island Health,” Jenkins added. “I want to come out of this with something that we can take to Island Health that’s going to be productive, lets make this work again.”
Longtime Port McNeill doctor Prean Armogam was sitting front row at the rally, showing his support for all of his patients who were in attendance. Armogam has remained committed in his refusal to back down from Island Health after years of being at odds with the organization.
Armogam was the only physician who attended the rally in person, noting the reason he was able to attend is because he’s one of the few health-care workers in the region who isn’t “under the thumb of the health authority.”
After looking around at all the people in the North Island Secondary School gymnasium that came out to show their support and tell their own stories, Armogam said it’s finally time that North Island residents have the ability to “understand what’s been happening – I think people have been duped for far too long, and I think frontline staff have been muzzled.”
James Hanson, Island Health’s Vice-President of Central/North Island Clinical Operations, recently did an interview with the Gazette, where he said the organization wants Armogam to renew his contract in Sointula on Malcolm Island.
When asked about it at the rally, the information came as a surprise to Armogam.
“There has been no word at all from Island Health,” he said, “let alone any negotiations about what that means [contract renewal]. I think whatever differences Island Health has with me, they are taking it out by punishing the community of Sointula.”
Armogam stated he feels Island Health is “actually hurting and abandoning that population [Sointula]” by wanting to change his contract from an APP type model, which is a salary type model that’s been in place for years now, to a fee for service volume based practice, which he says “has never worked for smaller towns like Gold River and Port Alice … It’s going to hurt the community.”
Armogam ended the interview by issuing a statement directly to Island Health.
“Enough already, let’s start talking about what you are going to do and how you are going to purge the leadership model for us to move on – where is the ownership?”
Outspoken Port Hardy doctor Alex Nataros wasn’t able to attend the rally in person, but he did send in a statement that was read aloud to the audience.
Nataros is currently in the midst of an external review of his emergency room privileges being suspended by Island Health, which he feels “is a kangaroo court” due to the external reviewer being “appointed by Island Health, and terms of reference drafted by them.”
“However, as I expressed to Island Health leadership in Campbell River on Feb. 1 when they first escalated against me, while I have little faith in institutions, I am committed to process – including demonstrating the failing of a process and making the example as public as possible for accountability.”
Nataros statement continued on, announcing that “Island Health, funded by your taxpayer dollars through the Ministry of Health, is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to fight me. To fight me. A doctor who moved my entire life here and who is deeply committed to the patients of the North Island. During a health-care crisis where we can barely keep our emerg rooms open for lack of doctors, and where way too many patients don’t have a family doctor … Something is deeply rotten in BC Healthcare.”
Action taken to strengthen North Vancouver Island health care
Island Health issued a lengthy statement on Tuesday (March 14), explaining how the organization and its partners have made significant progress to improve and stabilize health-care services for the North Island region.
“North Vancouver Island residents are quickly benefitting from Island Health’s improvements, especially by attracting and recruiting health-care professionals from across the province, country and beyond. Their progress is commendable and makes health care more accessible to Island residents closer to home,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health.
Island Health has hired new staff to support the health system in the North Island. In addition, Island Health anticipates delivering over $280,000 in quarterly retention bonuses to more than 200 current employees in the first quarter of the program, with eligible staff already receiving enhanced travel compensation.
“I want to thank all of the people who are actively working to bring health care service improvements to the residents of North Island. The $30 million investment will help to bring more stability and improved health care for the communities,” said Michele Babchuk, MLA for North Island.
With the purchasing of a new CT scanner well under way, local residents will benefit from drastically reduced travel times to access the health services they need.
“Island Health is committed to sharing updates as we move forward on this priority work,” said James Hanson, Island Health Vice-President, Central/North Island clinical operations. “We have established a task force that includes leaders from multiple teams whose focus is to ensure our patients and care providers realize the benefits of these investments as quickly as possible. I’m proud of what the team has accomplished already.”
Island Health has added two additional long-term care beds at Eagle Ridge Manor and increased services and residential capacity in the Port Hardy community by 10 per cent to better support seniors requiring long-term care.
“Knowing that government heard our requests for funding and listened to the recommendations that came from a health summit, facilitated by the Rural Coordination Center of BC in November 2022, about strengthening services in the North Vancouver Island area is so meaningful,” said Port Hardy Mayor Pat Corbett-Labatt. “For example, the expansion of the Salvation Army sobering, assessment and sheltering program is an amazing win for vulnerable people in our community and will help reduce visits to the hospital’s emergency department.”
Supported by a robust national recruitment campaign (#northvancouverislandcareers), Island Health is actively recruiting and targeting a broad range of potential new hires in North Vancouver Island, as well as a variety of professionals across Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada and the world. Since launching, over 1,000 prospective candidates have been engaged, including many nurses that have shown interest in one or more opportunities within Island Health. Eighteen candidates have accepted job offers in the North Vancouver Island region, including two nurses who have chosen to relocate from outside the North Vancouver Island region and will be starting work in the coming weeks.
Action has been taken to expand sobering, assessment and sheltering services currently offered by the Salvation Army, an Island Health contracted services provider. The Salvation Army operates a 6-space sheltering, sobering and assessment program in Port Hardy with support from Island Health’s mental health and substance use team, BC Housing, the District of Port Hardy and the Mt. Waddington Regional District. Thanks to the government’s investment, work has commenced to add six new sobering spaces and expand services to be available 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
“Historically, we have offered sheltering services from late afternoon to early morning, so people who are using these services have to find somewhere to go during the day and on weekends when the centre is closed,” said Michael Winter, Community Ministries Supervisor, Salvation Army Centre of Hope. “Expanding these vital services to be available around the clock for North Vancouver Island residents will offer more stability and long-term health and care for the individuals and families we serve.”
“I’m very excited and grateful to the Minister of Health for recognizing the significance of health-care services in North Vancouver Island,” said Port McNeill Mayor James Furney. “Everyone has a seat at this table, and our partnerships will play an essential role as we work together to ensure that these investments benefit all residents and Island Health staff working in this region.”
Three Registered Nurses/Registered Psychiatric Nurses hired (currently engaged and working 12 qualified candidates through recruitment and selection process, including five in the interview stage);
One Licensed Practical Nurse hired and two in the interview stage;
One community professional hired into home care and public health (Five qualified candidates in the interview and offer stages);
Seven support staff hired (includes ambassadors, nursing assistants and health care support workers);
One Protection Services Officer hired (currently engaged and working four candidates through recruitment and selection process including one in the offer stage); and
Two full time and two casual Inter-facility Porters for dedicated shuttle service hired (offers extended for two additional positions).
– with file from Island Health
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