Monday, November 24, 2008

Health care in Stewart reaches crisis proportions

While the provincial government frequently refers to British Columbia as the "Best place on earth", some of the places in the "Best Place" are facing some serious challenges to the very core services of their communities.

Stewart, the northwest town on the Alaska border due north of Prince Rupert is facing as serious a health care crisis as a town could face, with two of the communities doctors resigning their positions, frustrated with the state of the health delivery system in the community.

Northern Health so far has only offered up the solution of residents making the trek to Terrace for any required blood tests or X rays, a daunting task for sure considering the nature of Northwest weather in the winter time.

The health care crisis in the community has moved the Mayor elect to taking the message of concern to the Provincial government, while local mining interests in the region add their voices of concern over the health care situation and the impact it may have on their employees and their families.

Monday's Daily News outlines the dire straits that Stewart residents are facing these days, as the town is reduced to one part time doctor, two hospital nurses and a laboratory system that is hit and miss at best.

The troubling situation in Stewart was featured as the front page headline story in Monday's paper.

Stewart hemorrhaging staff from hospital and now only has one doctor on the books
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Monday, November 24, 2008

Pages one and three

Hospital services in Stewart have drastically declined in the last six months, according to newly re-elected Mayor Angela Brand Danuser and she worries that the Ministry of Health is not aware of just how bad things are.

According to Brand Danuser, Northern Health has removed three beds from its hospital; the nursing staff has dwindled to only two full time nurses; and the hospital's laboratory and x-ray coverage has become sporadic at best.

All of this pressure has resulted in two doctors handing in their resignations, claiming they've had enough of the rolled-back infrastructure.

"The doctors do not feel comfortable diagnosing and treating patients in a rural hospital," said Brand Danuser.

Brand Danuser has sent letters to both the minister of heath George Abbott and Premier Gordon Campbell outlining her concerns and pointing to the ministry of health services statement that reads: "Our mission is to guide and enhance the province's health services to ensure British Columbians are supported in their efforts to maintain and improve their health."
Brand Danuser accuses the ministry of not living up to its commitments.

With the two doctors resigning, that leaves the District of Stewart with one part-time doctor to take care of the 500 inhabitants who live there.

But 500 is not a hard population number for the popular mining town, where the rental vacancy is hovering around zero per cent and the hotel space is as coveted by transient mining industry workers as much as the mining resources they excavate.

With dwindling medical services, some of the mining industry heavyweights have petitioned Northern Health and the BC Ministry of Health for some infrastructure assistance-fearing employees will not have access to emergency medical services when needed.

"When Northern Health makes comments that we should just go to Terrace for a blood test or x-ray, you know it's just not that easy," said Brand Danuser.

"Our bus doesn't run every day or the roads could be closed, it's just not practical,"
Northern Health director of communications Steve Raper said that Northern Health is working with the community to deal with the infrastructure problem, but as of yet have not come to any decisions on what to do about it.

"We are working with community representatives and we are putting a plan in to place to address the challenges in providing services in Stewart," said Raper.

Raper said Northern Health is aware of concerns about staff shortages not just in Stewart but also around the Northern B.C. area and are working to address them.

"Everybody is really concerned. We are four hours away from any hospital on a good day," said Brand Danuser.

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