Chris Mazurkewich, who was appointed President and CEO of Interior Health in October 2015, was in Ashcroft last week with a team of IH officials. They met with members of local Councils, representatives of the Wellness and Health Action Coalition and the Ashcroft and District Health Care Auxiliary, and other stakeholders to discuss the state of healthcare in this region, and what the future looks like. Mazurkewich was also able to sit down to a one-on-one interview, where he discussed the challenges local healthcare is facing.
Mazurkewich is no stranger to Interior Health, having been the Chief Operating Officer, Strategic and Corporate Services, for IH from 2002 to 2009. Prior to returning to IH last year he spent four years with Alberta Health services.
The biggest challenge he sees for rural healthcare is the recruitment and retention of a sufficient number of physicians who are trained and willing to do emergency work. However, he notes that a team approach is needed, with nursing, lab, and diagnostic imaging personnel needed to support physicians.
“Most doctors now want a work/life balance,” he says. “Some want the full scope of a practice, which includes emergency and hospital work; that attracts a certain type of physician. But other community doctors and nurses say ‘No’; they want more of a clinical practice. And some communities are fine with that.”
Nurse practitioners are, he says, a possible solution in some places. “They can do a lot of primary care, but there are certain emergencies they can’t do.” He adds that as things stand now, a community that gains a nurse practitioner usually does so at the expense of somewhere else. However, he notes that IH has filled 300 new nursing positions in the last 90 days.
What it comes down to finding out from a community what it needs. “The old model isn’t sustainable. We need to talk with rural communities about what is a sustainable healthcare model, and get input to see what that looks like. What do you think you need?”
When asked about the future of the Ashcroft hospital he says that IH has “no plans” to wipe out the facility. He adds, however, that people need to understand what emergency is. “Most industrialized countries have far fewer emergency room visits than we do. People are going to emergency because they don’t have a personal physician, but polls show that people prefer services in a non-hospital setting.
“We have to accept that there are other ways of providing care. People say they want a hospital, but when questioned they say what they really want is support and care. We’re trying to provide that. There’s a balance between needing and getting care; the trick is to find the right balance.”
People need to take more preventive measures to stay healthy, he says, to avoid needing hospital care, and points to his 86-year-old mother as an example. “She’s a diabetic, but looks after herself and has the support and care she needs. If she wasn’t taking and using these preventive measures she would need more hospital care. If you know your health, you can take preventive measures and stay healthy.
“We’re working with communities to create health charters. We know that if you have exercise facilities like biking and walking paths, people are healthier.”
He also acknowledges that we need to be smarter about how we support new physicians coming into rural communities, which means everything from helping them assimilate into a possibly new culture to determining whether they want to manage their own clinic, as is the case in Ashcroft. “Some people like to run a business, and some don’t,” he says. “For those who don’t, we need to change the model.”
While he notes that there can’t be a unique healthcare model for every community within IH, Mazurkewich says that there are different models that can be looked at, to see which works best. “There are good examples out there, and communities need to share, to see which one works for them.
“We’re vested in Ashcroft, and want to work with the community. We need to recruit and train the appropriate professionals, and listen to what people tell us and say they want.”