Health care supporters think they’re within weeks of coming up with a new model of health care delivery in the area.
The new model will see the return of local advisory councils who oversee small regions, with physicians who can specialize and practice within that region.
Earlier this year, the province launched a pilot program known as Practice Ready Assessment – BC for doctors trained in other countries who wish to practice in BC.
Dr. Nancy Humber, community medical director for IH West, has had a family practice in Lillooet for two decades.
“She sees a serious need for a change,” says Ron Hood, member of Ashcroft’s Wellness Health Action Coalition (WHAC).
He says Humber has brought the program to Lillooet and is re-training four international physicians to become certified to practice in BC. A provision of the program is that graduates must spend three years practising in a rural community, and two of those doctors are expected to come to Ashcroft in February.
In the meantime, says Hood, Humber is enlisting the other physicians in the Lillooet clinic to help with the training by accepting patients from the Ashcroft clinic who are currently without a doctor.
The community bus could be used to take patients to Lillooet and bring them back to Ashcroft again once or twice a week, but BC Transit is still looking into costs and contracts.
“What we want in place is a new model that takes care of the next problem before it happens,” says Hood.
He says when WHAC was formed, they drew up a long list of questions. When they started looking, they found the answers were already there.
“It’s a matter of protocol that no one has figured out,” says Hood. “How do you get the rhetoric to trickle down to the grass roots? You stomp on a whole lot of comfort zones.”
The health system needs to change, he says. Everyone wants it to change. The system itself wants to change. And it is beginning to.
The problem began in the early 1990s when the Health Authorities were formed because they took rural communities out of the picture.
“The community should be up in arms,” he says. “It should have been up in arms 20 years ago and stayed there.”
WHAC sees two ways to approach the problem, he says. Public confrontation is one. It draws everyone’s attention ot it. Collaboration is the second, working with others to create lasting change from within the system.
Change needs a grass roots groundswell.
“The more numbers you can produce, the more government listens,” he says.
WHAC membership provides the numbers. Hood says Humber wanted to change the system and WHAC is helping by providing the numbers.
The volunteer WHAC is looking for a paid Project Manager to carry on with the project and the “comfort zone stomping” with support from the Village of Ashcroft, MLA Jackie Tegart and Dr. Humber.
Tegart has been organizing community meetings, lobbying her colleagues in the Legislature and looking for funding for the different aspects of the work.
“Things are changing with protocol,” says Hood. “We have to keep pushing.”
In the interim, Dr. Humber has four extra physicians in her clinic, he says. Under the supervision of Lillooet’s other doctors, they will be taking appointments to see local patients once or twice a week. Patients’ files will remain at the Ashcroft clinic.
“Jackie (Tegart) started this whole thing,” says Hood. “It’s a slow process, but the new system will change the way they’re able to provide services.”
Hood points out that the Ministry is experimenting with regional health boards around the province. Within this new rural region, doctors will be able to pursue medical specialties that won’t work in a single community but can work in a region.
“If we can keep these professionals in the region – that’s the goal,” he says.