Following multiple emergency closures and the loss of physicians in northern Vancouver Island communities, a task force has been established by Island Health.
The health authority says it has been an ‘extremely difficult’ time on the North Island with recent emergency room closures and reduced opening hours in some hospitals leading to significant waits for see doctors at other facilities that remain open.
In Alert Bay, a two-week emergency shutdown at the remote community hospital has now extended through the rest of the month.
This follows repeated temporary closures and diversions of patients at hospitals in Port McNeill and Port Hardy in July and August.
Island Health representatives held a public meeting with North Island residents on Thursday evening to update them on the search for doctors and nurses for ER staff, but many residents fear they may have need emergency care and not get it.
“There is a lot of fear among a lot of people, because we have an elderly population,” said Alert Bay Mayor Dennis Buchanana. “And so we’re worried about whether there’s an emergency at night, we explained to them that with the emergency room closed, call 911.”
It’s not just doctors who are lacking in northern hospitals, nurses are also in high demand.
Liberal health critic Shirley Bond said the government’s inaction is creating more problems as the health care crisis deepens.
“We are seeing across the province that there are significant challenges,” Bond said. “And in this case, in Alert Bay, one of the issues is nursing. We therefore need to consider a comprehensive strategy for health human resources. We have been challenging the government since the day it was elected. And there’s just no plan in place.
In a news release, Island Health says it has created a task force made up of representatives from Island Health, the Rural and Remote Division of Family Medicine, Doctors of BC and Port Hardy physicians, all focused on strategies to improve health care delivery. .
“Specific to Port Hardy, two doctors recently made the decision to leave the community and a third will leave in September. Island Health, Doctors of BC, Port Hardy Physicians and the Rural and Remote Division of Family Medicine are concerned about the impact these departures could have on patients and caregivers who remain in the community,” Island said. Health.
The health authority said two new doctors have recently moved to the North Island and are working in Port McNeill, and another new doctor will arrive in November.
“Extensive efforts have also been made to maintain services and provide high quality, culturally safe patient care during this difficult time. But we know that additional collaborative and innovative approaches that support physicians and healthcare providers who work in the region in providing high quality and safe patient care are needed,” Island Health said.
The task force’s immediate goal will be to ensure “reliable and predictable” emergency and acute care services for patients, Island Health said, as well as access to primary care.
There is currently a 40% vacancy rate for staff nurses at the Port Hardy and McNeill sites, and COVID-19 sick calls are making matters worse, James Hanson, vice president of clinical operations at Island Health for the Central and North Island, declared in Canada. National Observer earlier this week.
“We are not at all happy with the situation in the North Island, and access to care in this region is a huge priority for us,” he said.
READ MORE: Alert Bay ER overnight shutdown extended, but island emergency room closures not on the cards
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