A protester at Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart’s office in Ashcroft is trying to draw attention to the healthcare crisis in the area.
Ken Platz is outside Tegart’s office when it’s open in the afternoon, sign in hand. He says he plans to continue until public consciousness is raised about what is, and isn’t, being done to improve local healthcare services, in his opinion.
“In Canada, healthcare is the mandate of the provincial government. I want MLA Tegart to meet with Health Minister Terry Lake to ask him to tell Interior Health to get doctors to our area.” Platz is concerned about the lack of general practitioners in Ashcroft, and says that people are moving out of town because of the lack of doctors. He’s also concerned that Interior Health is working toward the closure of the Ashcroft Hospital, which has seen a decrease in its Emergency hours over the last few years.
“The Wellness and Health Action Coalition is doing a great job of trying to get doctors here,” says Platz. “But they’re just an advocacy group. They have no power.” Lori Pilon, Tegart’s Constituency Assistant, says that Platz has been invited to come into the office and discuss the doctor issue directly with Tegart, but has declined.
Tegart replied that she has been very active in trying to find a solution for the area’s healthcare woes. In April 2014 she brought the SOHC (Support Our Health Care) group from Princeton to Ashcroft to share their experience in healthcare recruitment; the WHAC initiative was born from that meeting. She has also met with local elected officials and Interior Health, and in November 2014 brought Health Minister Terry Lake on a tour of Ashcroft, Logan Lake, and Merritt to show him what small rural communities face.
“The challenge is that there aren’t enough doctors. It’s a tough issue across the province,” says Tegart. “I’m a strong advocate for healthcare services being available as locally as possible. It’s looking very promising for two doctors to come to Ashcroft in February, but we have to ask what we can do to support professionals so they don’t burn out.”
To that end, Tegart says the question is what is the “best practice” in a team approach to healthcare. Nurse practitioners and a better use of paramedics are two possible answers, and Tegart says she’d be willing for the area to be a pilot project if necessary. “We seem to be constantly in crisis mode, so how do we move beyond that and stop the cycle?” She acknowledged that the breadth of the problem sometimes pits communities against each other. “That’s one of the challenges; programs come into being with unexpected consequences. We need to find doctors who want to serve in rural BC.”
Regarding Ashcroft hospital, Tegart says there has been no indication from Interior Health that they have any plans to close it. “I’ve not been informed of any want on their part to close the hospital.”
A meeting between Tegart and area mayors about healthcare has been scheduled for September. “I want to discuss what local expectations are, and how to get there,” she says. “There are a lot of people working on this from all fronts, but there’s no easy fix. The problem is always at the forefront, because we need rural communities to be sustainable, and healthcare is very much a part of that sustainability.”