Carrying PORT ALICE LIVES MATTER placards, Port Alice residents attended a community meeting with Island Health on Wednesday February 20 at the Port Alice Recreation Centre to discuss proposed changes to health services.
From the community of approximately 750, the seating for 150 was nearly filled, and there were at least 40 standees. Emotions ran high and commentary was heated.
A uniformed police officer was in attendance. Representing Island health were: Elin Bjarnason – Vice President, Clinical Service Delivery, Dr. Jennifer Grace – Executive Medical Director, Allison Mitchell – Director Mt. Waddington/Strathcona, and Dermot Kelly – Executive Director. BC Ambulance service was represented by Lance Stephenson, Director – Patient Care Delivery – Vancouver Island, Mike Aubie, Manager, Patient Care Delivery, North Island, and Maria Fraser, Acting Unit Chief.
The meeting was scheduled for 6 to 8 PM. When the floor was opened to questions and comments, the meeting went into overtime. When it was adjourned at 8:40, many were still wishing to speak.
The residents’ main concern was the statement in the mail out which reads: “Port Alice Health Centre staff will no longer provide emergency or urgent (non-primary) care”. The reasons for elimination of those services were cited as: “Decreasing utilization/challenges in staffing 24/7 urgent care services”. Other changes would be a reduction from 1.4 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) physicians to .8, and a reduction from 2 FTE Registered Nurses (includes on call) to 1 Registered Nurse FTE (no on call).
The advance notice also states: “Emergency and urgent care will be provided by BC Ambulance Service”. It was noted by Lance Stephenson that the nearest BC Ambulance Service helicopter to Port Alice would be from Richmond. That would be a straight line distance of 343 kilometres—not within operational range of their helicopters.
Mr. Stephenson stated: “we have a contract with West Coast Helicopters out of Port McNeil that provide us air support to your area with local paramedics.”
What was made clear at the meeting was that Port Alice residents are deeply concerned about the loss of emergency medical care. Speakers drew attention to high risk occupations in the forest industry and the frequent need for prompt medical attention.
Others referred to the ageing population as Port Alice transitions from an industry town to a retirement town and an increasing – not decreasing – need for health care. It was pointed out that access to Port Alice is sometimes impossible in winter, by road or air. A number of speakers related personal anecdotes about how they would not have survived without prompt emergency care in Port Alice before being transferred to other hospitals by ambulance.
Other speakers expressed dissatisfaction with Island Health and BC Ambulance Services in general. Dr. Jennifer Grace spoke at length about the difficulties involved in maintaining the proficiency of practitioners in small communities where some procedures are seldom performed.
Dr. Henderson, who serves Port Alice, commented that removing the emergency room and replacing it with a bath was “ridiculous”, and received a round of applause.
– Bob Leask article