“Last week I got a kidney infection; I sat for five hours, five hours with a fever, a kidney infection and a hard, cold chair to see a doctor. Then I waited an additional hour once I was in a bed for them because they got another 20 beds full of people waiting,” local resident, Melody Bodenham asserted, going on to say that she would have to come back in the next couple of days for the test result, a wait of another 12 hours.
Peace River North MLA, Pat Pimm, a dignitary on the panel, took the time to make mention of a meeting that was held on March 17 with a number of key representatives, including doctors from UBC, members of City Hall and the PRRD, the Ministry of Health, Northern Health and the Chamber of Commerce to name a few.
The purpose of the meeting, according to Pimm, was to directly address the health care crisis and come up with both short and long term resolutions.
“The recommendations were the community action group be constituted, that was one recommendation; North Peace Division of Family Practice Collaborative Service Committee was another group that was going to be put together,” Pimm explained while insisting that “counter to popular opinion, a lot of these things happened.”
“They wanted to see actions within an ultimate service model delivery… and intimate and integrated service model in the Fort St. John Medical Clinic – and work on recruitment and retention plans.”
Dr. Richard Moody, however, acknowledged that in hindsight, it would have been in everyone’s best interest to include the community in the aforementioned round-table discussion.
“Looking back, the big mistake we made was that we didn’t include (the public)” Dr. Moody explained.
A common theme among those voicing their concerns was the cost of living in Fort St. John, provincial subsidies and incentives, as well as the cost of running a business.
“From the business standpoint, the model has to change in order for the doctors to net the income to make an attractive recruitment,” another attendee insisted. “…We have a new facility and an established teaching program, a zealous orphan patient list and an extreme need for doctors in this area.”
“But what we don’t have is a competitive business model that can outweigh doctors’ attraction to the new and upgraded facilities, a portable lifestyle, urban extras and net earning… (as) other provinces in B.C.’s southern market are currently taking doctors to the other communities and forcing doctors to continue overlooking the northern region.”
A third community member added, “To attract future family physicians, we need to move one of the life barriers, and the barrier is the cost of housing.”
Northern Heath cites the Rural Program incentives as a means of addressing these issues, which include a $20,000 signing bonus to move and work in the community, $15,000 in relocation assistance, an annual flat fee payment of $22,922.83, a 23.3 per cent fee premium applied to every service item the physician bills, and between $2,000 – $10,000 for continuing medical education.
NDP Health Critic, Judy Darcy says she’ll be taking what she learns at the meeting and bringing it to the next legislative assembly.
“I’m mainly here to listen hard so when the legislator convenes in October, I’m able to be a voice on your behalf about solutions for Fort St. John.”
Darcy also acknowledged that the situation in Fort St. John is one of the worst she’s ever seen.
“I don’t know of any place in British Columbia that has a more severe shortage of family doctors and other health care practitioners than Fort St. John does and there are obviously a lot of factors that contribute to that,” Darcy said. “I just learned some of them as I was sitting here about the changes at the federal level, about being able to have doctors come from South Africa and the fact that we don’t have, in the province of British Columbia, a medical assessment program so that internationally educated doctors can make up the majority of the doctors here.”
Many of those in attendance also took offence to the fact that Premier Christy Clark decided not to make an appearance, citing commitments to prior engagements.
“It always seems that when we have these forums, only the opposition can find time to come see us,” Bodenham said.
Bodenham also adds, “The only time she makes her way out here is when the massive media make headlines and when an entire industry gets shut down, and then Christy Clark can make it to Fort Nelson. When a very strong political party shuts down 40 per cent of employment, then Christy Clark can find time to get here.”