PORT HARDY — A contracted physician should be hired to put an end to rolling emergency room closures that have plagued Port Hardy Hospital, Port Hardy Mayor Bev Parnham said Tuesday during a hastily assembled meeting that drew dozens of government officials, medical professionals, First Nations participants and concerned citizens to the Civic Centre.
The ongoing series of emergency room closures at Port Hardy Hospital reached a tipping point last week, prompting the District of Port Hardy to convene the meeting between parties seeking to identify expectations for local emergency services and solutions to solve the problem.
Currently, local practitioners cover the emergency room on-call around their regular clinic hours, a model that leads to burnout and turnover. With only three local physicians currently available, it also leads to the 24-hour closures that have become routine in the past five years.
“The status quo and the current formula is simply not working here,” said Parnham. “The system of on-call physicians is not used in all B.C. communities, and we need to look at another model.”
A number of people took a turn at the microphone to add their concerns and suggestions. Among them was local physician Andre DeWit, who was asked about the effectiveness of a contracted E.R. physician.
“I did that when I worked in Newfoundland,” said DeWit. “It happens in a lot of communities, and it’s a good model. It’s expensive, but it could work in this community.”
Allison Cutler, VIHA’s executive director of population and community health, said the meeting brought several strong recommendations, including the use of locum physicians and/or nurse practitioners in the emergency room, and opening a walk-in clinic to take some of the load. But she warned participants that any solution would come at a cost.
“(A contracted physician) is possible,” Cutler said. “If you do that, you have to give up something else. There’s just not enough money to provide everything to everybody.”
But the crowd drawn to Tuesday’s meeting was nearly unanimous in its insistence the Port Hardy emergency room remain open 24/7, 365 days a year.
Speakers cited the the population and demographic of the region it serves, its proximity to the airport for patients who may need emergency flights, and the impact of limited health service on recruiting and retaining workers and their families in the district.
“When we don’t have the emergency care needed in the community, we lose people,” said Parnham. “When we lose people, we lose business. When we lose businesses we lose children, which means we lose schools. It’s just lose, lose, lose.”
Representatives from each of Port Hardy’s surrounding First Nations bands spoke of the limited transportation of many of their members, particularly elders who most need medical services.
Other citizens shared stories of their own need or that of family members for reliable service in the community. Brenda McCorquodale, whose daughter was born with a medical condition that has resulted in emergency room visits, hospitalization and surgery, requested from VIHA the number of E.R. closures in Port Hardy for the past five years. She found 12 closures in 2007, 102 in 2008, five in 2009, 23 in 2010 and 24 for the first eight months of this year.
“We’re in a pattern where the E.R. is closed almost a month every year,” an emotional McCorquodale said. “What will it take to fix this? What if someone dies; what if my daughter dies? Then something will get done, but it will be too late for us.”
Parnham said the District of Port Hardy will present the conclusions of Tuesday’s meeting to the VIHA Board during its meeting in Port McNeill Tuesday, Sept. 20, and to the minister of health the following week.
The VIHA Board will also be available to meet with the public Wednesday, Sept. 21, following a meeting of the Mount Waddington Health Network at the Port McNeill Community Centre. The health network meeting begins at 9:30 a.m., and will be followed by an open meeting with the VIHA board. To attend, please RSVP Reena Preece at 250-902-6071 or firstname.lastname@example.org