Island Health has reaffirmed its commitment to minimize future closures at the Urgent Care Centre in Chemainus.
The centre was shut down nine days in September, with another 13 in October due to limited physician availability, prompting patients requiring care to go to Ladysmith or Cowichan District Hospital during those times.
Just exactly when Island Health can assure further day closures will cease still isn’t clear.
“We recognize it is really difficult for a community to not be able to access the Urgent Care Centre,” said Dr. Maki Ikemura, medical director for the Cowichan Valley.
“Everybody’s doing their best to keep the disruptions as short as possible. We’re doing our best to recruit additional physicians.”
Ikemura was responding to a question posed by Chemainus Health Care Foundation president Paul Edwards during an Island Health public forum at the Chemainus Theatre’s Playbill Dining Room last Thursday afternoon.
Edwards was particularly interested in the response, as were residents, with the hours of service being reduced again in October.
Ikemura said it is a complex situation and the answer may involve getting nurse practitioners to join family practice and the ability for physicians to move between sites.
“We’re doing our best to cover these shifts so these closures don’t have to happen.”
The forum was hosted by Island Health board chair Leah Hollins and chief executive officer Kathy MacNeil, with all but one member of the entire board of directors in attendance. Among the others making a presentation was Dr. Shannon Waters, medical health officer for the Cowichan Valley.
The session was also live-streamed for those unable to be in attendance during the afternoon hours.
The forum provided an overview of Island Health’s work and mandates and what improvements are taking place for health care delivery in the Chemainus and Ladysmith regions.
An update was also provided by Wesley Davidson, Island Health’s chief project officer, about the status of the new Cowichan District Hospital, the facility frequented by Chemainus residents beyond the capabilities of the Urgent Care Centre.
Some work is already being done on the site in preparation for construction, he said.
“We are working diligently to continue on that design phase,” Davidson added.
Shovels are expected to go in the ground in January of 2023, with completion of the hospital replacement targeted for late 2026.
In moving forward from the pandemic, Island Health will be launching the Our Health, Our Community survey for the Cowichan Valley in the spring of 2023 to gather data on the health and well-being of Cowichan region residents. Our Cowichan Communities Health Network will lead in partnership with Island Health.
“We are the first region that will be implementing this survey,” said Waters.
In response to another question from the floor for people who don’t currently have a family doctor due to retirements or other factors, MacNeil advised the best course of action is to first register on the HealthConnect data base.
“The Ministry of Health is working on some primary care initiatives,” she added.
Those include the ability of pharmacists to renew existing prescriptions without having to make an appointment with a physician.
Presentations at the beginning of the forum by Hollins and MacNeil highlighted the commitment of Island Health to deliver the best possible care for patients of all needs during trying times.
“One thing that has always been central to my work is the patient,” said Hollins. “Caring for the patient is why I started working in health care.”
“We face the dual challenge of meeting today’s needs and trying to plan for the future,” said MacNeil. “We are mindful of the current challenges we have today in delivering health care services.
“Through the pandemic we learned new ways of working together. Here in the Cowichan Valley, we work closely with all our community partners. Coming out of the pandemic, we are facing significant challenges. Front and centre for all of us is the sustainability of our work force.”