Healthcare concerns prompt NDP visit to local communities

Opposition Leader John Horgan and NDP Health Spokesperson MLA Judy Darcy met with residents to talk about lack of healthcare.

Provincial NDP Leader John Horgan and MLA Judy Darcy, the NDP Health Spokesperson, were in the area last week, listening to feedback about local healthcare issues and concerns. The visit came at the request of the Logan Lake Mayor and Council, and Horgan and Darcy visited Kamloops, Merritt, Logan Lake, Ashcroft, and Cache Creek during their trip.

Darcy said the intention was to meet with healthcare providers, local councils, and residents. “We wanted to hear firsthand what’s happening in healthcare,” she said, “the challenges and problems.” In addition to meeting separately with Ashcroft and Cache Creek councils, the pair sat down with nine members of the Wellness and Health Action Coalition (WHAC) to hear about the challenges the group faces.

Joyce Beddow pointed out the large number of area residents who once had a family doctor here and no longer do. Others have resorted to finding doctors in other communities such as Lillooet and Merritt, “which are at least an hour’s drive away in good weather.”

David Durksen said that while approaches have been made to several doctors, the crisis won’t be over until at least February 2016, when the Ashcroft clinic hopes to get two doctors under the province’s new Practice Ready Assessment program. Doctor burnout remains a problem, and Durksen said that one of WHAC’s goals is to create a sustainable healthcare model that will reduce the burden on doctors coming into the community. More highly trained ambulance attendants, the Nurse First Call program, and nurse practitioners would help, all of which Horgan indicated fit with his “team based” approach to healthcare.

Phyllis Rainey, a retired RN, spoke about the deterioration of services at the hospital, confusion as to when the Emergency Department is open, and the increasing number of people resorting to getting emergency refills of prescriptions because they can’t see a doctor. The heavy smoke throughout the region last week would, in the past, have seen people with breathing issues come to the hospital for oxygen, said Rainey. “They’re managing to get puffers and inhalers from the pharmacy, but it’s not the same.”

“Something bad will have to happen before people realize how bad the situation is,” said Beddow, while Lois Petty added that “We have to fight to keep what we need.” One member recounted that he tried to make an appointment with a locum, as he has no family doctor, and was told that locums can’t see people who have no family doctor as “they already have full patient lists.” “What’s the point of having them here?” he asked.

Fran White pointed out that Clinton has just lost its one doctor, and was told by Interior Health that “Clinton doesn’t count for a doctor, and IH will not will not be working to replace him.” The difficulty many people have accessing healthcare in distant centres was mentioned, with White noting that “It’s hard to get to a doctor when you don’t have transportation.”

Horgan said that having talked to people in the area and heard their stories, he believes that Interior Health’s “passion” for regionalization is hurting small communities. “They’re convinced it’s for the best, and is critical to providing cost effective services,” but at a very real cost to smaller centres that have seen their healthcare options slowly chipped away at over the past two decades.

Barbara Roden