I was standing on the front deck of my house on the mesa in Ashcroft a while back, looking out over the town; something I like to do when it is still and dark, and the only movement is the occasional set of head- or tail-lights heading up or down Highway 97C (on a still night you can hear the jakes of trucks coming down the long grade).
It was after 10 p.m., so it was quite dark, and as I looked I saw a vehicle turn into the driveway of the Ashcroft Hospital. I wondered, for a brief moment, what crisis—large or small—this might mean. An anxious parent with an ailing child? A chronic condition grown worse? An unexpected trauma that needed attention?
My family has used Ashcroft Hospital for all these things, although the building is also associated with a much happier event: the birth of my son there in 1997. I gave birth in a wonderfully appointed birthing suite, and received wonderful care during my nearly four day stay.
The birthing suite is long since gone, and I expect that my son was one of the last children born in the Ashcroft Hospital. The site has, of course, changed immensely in the intervening years; that the Jackson House long-term care facility now occupies where the birthing suite once stood is just one of those changes. But of all the changes to the hospital, the one that most continually comes up is the emergency department.
There was a time, of course, when the ED was open 24/7. Over the last few years that has changed drastically, to the point where the ED is only open from 6 p.m. on a Friday evening until 8 a.m. on a Monday morning. And even that is not always a certainty, as was made apparent last weekend, when Interior Health announced that due to physician shortages, the ED would not open at all over the Easter long weekend.
The situation is bound to incense many people, and the cry will go up that if only we had more physicians we could once more return to those halcyon days of 24-hour emergency health care. However, health care is an intensely complicated and complex system; and if there was an easy or simple fix, then I am fairly certain someone would have thought of it by now.
Physicians no longer want to work all the hours God sends; the days of Doctor Kildare or Marcus Welby, cheerfully working 80 hours a week, are long gone. And good riddance: why should we expect more of doctors than most of us would care to give in our own jobs? They, as much as anyone else, deserve a life.
And physicians are only one piece of a larger puzzle. An emergency department is more than just doctors; it is registered nurses and lab technicians and X-ray technicians. We could have dozens of physicians clamouring to work in Ashcroft; but if the other health care practitioners are not there to support them, our emergency department will be open no more often than it currently is.
This is not to say we throw up our hands and mutter “Well, that’s it, then.” We must continue to work. But there is no easy fix, and simply yelling “More physicians!” is not the solution. And if anyone tries to tell you there’s an easy solution, take their words with a healthy prescription of salt.