PORT HARDY—With a flurry of eagle down, a blessing song and the snip of scissors on ribbon, the new Port Hardy Primary Health Care Centre opened its doors to the public Thursday morning.
Under a large canopy in a cool, biting breeze, dignitaries from Island Health, local government and area First Nations extolled the promise the centre offers in increased access to and expanded options for health care.
“This is really indicative of where we’re going, as far as partnerships with the health authority,” said Dean Wilson of the Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw Health Clinic. “We’re in a different place than we were 10, 15 years ago.”
The ceremony marked the completion of the $2.6 million, 482-square metre facility, which was built by Norkan Construction of Port McNeill with the help of local subcontractors.
The clinic is not yet operational, but will be officially opened this spring to offer primary health care and some community services in a single location.
“By providing services in a patient-centered primary setting, we’re helping reduce demands on Port Hardy Hospital’s emergency department and offering easily accessible care,” Health Minister Terry Lake, who did not attend the ceremony, said in a written release.
The concept and construction of the health centre resulted from the formation more than three years ago of the Mount Waddington Health Services Stabilization local working group, which hoped to address chronic staffing shortages and rolling emergency room closures in Port Hardy.
The group brought together concerned community members, the Mount Waddington Health Network, First Nations, the Regional District of Mount Waddington and Island Health Representatives, which submitted a report and recommendations that included the creation of integrated care facilities in Port Hardy and Port McNeill.
Following a renovation late last year, the Port McNeill Medical Clinic recently re-opened as an integrated care centre, and the opening this spring of the new Port Hardy facility will mark the successful completion of that recommendation.
A driving force in the creation and work of the local working group was then-Mayor Bev Parnham, who died last May.
“She knew as a leader of Port Hardy she needed to collaborate with all communities on the North Island, so I want to pay her some respect,” said James Nelson, speaking on behalf of the Quatsino First Nation. “I can’t help but think about Bev Parnham at a time like this. I believe had she not done that, we would be in a different state right now. She brought a vision together; I just wanted to acknowledge that.”
Parnham was commemorated for her efforts with a plaque just inside the entrance to the facility, along with a newly planted tree just outside the main entrance. In the coming weeks, Port Hardy Council is expected to approve a bylaw naming the street that fronts the clinic and leads to the nearby hospital after Parnham, as well.
Jeff Beselt, executive medical director of Island Health for the North Vancouver Island region, said the clinic will be staffed upon its opening by Port Hardy’s three existing physicians, as well as two full-time and two more part-time nurse practitioners.
He said three more physicians were expected to sign on later this year after completing 12-week practical assessments.
While the effort of Island Health and all the local supporters and contractors in creating the new clinic was universally applauded Thursday, some speakers noted it is merely a first step in ensuring the reliable delivery of needed care to the local population.
“The purpose of the health centre was and is to improve service delivery to the people of the North Island,” said Ross Hunt of the Kwakiutl Band Council.
“It presents a unique opportunity for Island Health and first nations to work together and achieve the greater good for all. We, as indigenous people, view this as a new beginning, and hope that programs and services will follow suit to reflect the spirit and intent of the primary health care centre. We will continue to press for fundamental changes including better care for the young and old, with a greater emphasis on mental and spiritual health.”