OPINION: Urgent care room will cost lives

“Seniors, of any demographic, are the most vulnerable to the loss of emergency care.”

Island Health is intending on replacing Port Alice Health Centre’s emergency room with an “urgent care room” that is basically a glorified band-aid dispensary. They say it’s because the emergency room is “not getting enough use.” This does not mean it is not getting any use—suggesting that they are willing to sacrifice a life or two in order to get a flow chart that is agreeable to them.

Instead, emergency care is to be relegated to 24/7 ambulance services to a hospital 45 minutes to 7 hours away. This would not be so much of an issue if not for the fact that the Port Alice highway is long, narrow and winding, and impassable in certain weather conditions.

When we had the windstorm back in February, 19 trees had fallen across the road. If an ambulance needs to wait for them to be cleared, it might be “tough luck” for the patient they are transporting.

When there is one of those wet fluffy snowstorms—with plenty of black ice and big snowflakes that act like little ball bearings for anything travelling over them—the ambulance would have to inch along to avoid being a casualty itself. Because a good section of the Port Alice highway is a mountain pass, this can be a regular occurrence in winter.

The very real possibility of floods and landslides could cut off traffic to and from Port Alice for days.

Evacuating a patient by air is also problematic, as flying through rain and heavy fog poses serious risks. Rain and fog are usually a constant during the winter months on the North Island.

Since the mill went into a production curtailment in 2015, residents have been advertising their town as a haven for seniors and it has been working! It has brought our population from 664 back up to about 800. In the summer, the population doubles with seasonal workers, summer residents and tourists. With roughly 1600 people in Port Alice the summer months, is a 0.8 FTE physician contract enough? Should we leave 1600 people, some of whom work in the very dangerous logging industry, without any emergency care?

Seniors, of any demographic, are the most vulnerable to the loss of emergency care. When seniors need non-primary care, it is not usually for a broken leg from playing hockey. It is more likely for situations that are life threatening, such as a heart attack or stroke, when there can be only a matter of moments between life and death.

Removing emergency care in a place with a growing population of seniors is discriminatory, not to mention just plain callous!

Whatever happened to the Hippocratic Oath: “do no harm”? Removing an emergency room that was already there would be a harmful act.

It seems like Island Health is playing Russian Roulette with the residents of Port Alice. It is a certainty that, sooner or later, someone is going lose at that lottery and pay the ultimate price for the minimum 45-minute drive to emergency care on an unreliable road.

At the meeting with Island Health on February 20th, when it was asked who had been to emergency in Port Alice, many, about 20, put up their hands in the room of about 200 people. Cathy Anderson brought up the fact that her husband is alive today due to prompt emergency care he received in Port Alice.

That is one of my neighbours who is still around because he was lucky enough to have had his health crisis before Island Health converted the emergency room into an “urgent care room.”

– Debra Lynn is a writer, artist and educator who lives in Port Alice

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