The Wellness and Health Action Coalition is developing a five-year plan for the Ashcroft Hospital

A new regional health care plan is falling into place

A local group is working with Interior Health to ensure that the Ashcroft hospital and clinic stay open.

The news that one of Ashcroft’s doctors is leaving next month hasn’t created the same feelings of panic that it has in the past, thanks to the work of the Wellness and Health Action Coalition (WHAC) and its work in creating a new model of rural health care.

While WHAC spokesperson David Durksen expects the new model, which he calls a “redesign”, will be announced in February, local health care’s road is less than smooth.

“Unfortunately Dr. [Serena] Govindasamy has put in her resignation as of November 30,” says Durksen. “At least this time we have two more doctors in place, so there isn’t going to be a major disruption. But it doesn’t really allow us to start drawing people back in and building things up yet.” Durksen says they are already looking for more doctors.

“Recruiting is taking place at several levels,” says WHAC member Ron Hood, “so there are more people and agencies involved in the recruiting now.”

The Ashcroft-based group, which is a sub-committee of the Community Resources Society (CRS), continues to study and advocate for a new rural model. Durksen says they count several retired nurses among their members.

“We asked them to help us understand how the whole system of the clinic and the hospital and the ER and all of that worked.” The answers they came up with made the group realize that a team-based system was crucial to their plans

“We were down to one nurse and one part-time nurse,” he says, “and we were short in the lab and short in medical imaging. The reason we haven’t been able to have more ER hours when we had the three doctors was because we didn’t have the nurses or the lab staff or the medical imaging. If you don’t have those three things, just because you have the doctors doesn’t mean you can do ER. We’re now recruiting for the whole picture, not just the doctors.”

Part of the redesign model includes local mental health care. Durksen says their lead resource person, Dr. Nancy Humber in Lillooet, who is the medical director for this section of Interior Health, has put together a proposal that has been approved by the Youth and Family ministry. The adult part of the program is waiting for approval from the Health ministry.

As far as Durksen knows, the plans, money, and staffing are in place. The mental health plan includes a professional who will travel among the communities within the catchment area—from Logan Lake to Lytton, and Lillooet to north of Clinton—both in person and by tele-health, providing service to every community.

He says the new pharmacist in Ashcroft is working with the doctors in Ashcroft and local First Nations bands to identify patient care plans so that he and the doctors can ensure patients on multiple prescriptions don’t have problems with incompatible medications. They are also making prescription renewal easier if the patient’s doctor is out of town.

What Durksen hopes to see a year from now is “The hospital fully staffed, and the ER hours appropriate for the community. We will have four doctors, we will have specialists visiting the community rather than everyone going into Kelowna or Kamloops, and we will have the mental health piece in place.”

“And people, in general, will have a better idea of how to use the system,” adds Hood.

Durksen hopes that the announcement for the new model will come some time in February, and says WHAC will continue to work with Dr. Humber on a redefinition of community care for the whole catchment area, including the ability to share staffing and other resources.

“We’re still batting our heads against the bureaucracy,” he says. “We’re dealing with the College of Physicians and Surgeons, College of Family Practice, the College of Nurses, the College of Dentists, the College of Pharmacists…

“We’ve been talking about five-year funding on everything we’ve been doing because that takes us out of the election cycle. The problems have been politically created and the solutions need to be politically created.

“We [WHAC] intend on being the Community Health Board that was disbanded in the 90s, but we’re not setting up the structure until we get the redesign in place. We keep saying we’re not asking for more money; we’re asking for the money in our catchment area to be used more wisely.”

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