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North Island residents getting 2nd class hospital care, advocates say

Patient tower, cardiac cath lab wanted for Nanaimo to balance resource base concentrated in Victoria
City council members agreed that they will take any opportunity to advocate for a new patient tower and cardiac catheterization lab at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital medical staff say people on northern Vancouver Island deserve better health care than what they’re getting, and are urging community members and civic leaders to keep up the cry.

At a Nanaimo city council meeting Aug. 28, council voted unanimously in favour of four mayor’s leaders’ table recommendations related to advocacy for a patient tower and a cardiac catheterization lab at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.

Donna Hais, community liaison for the NRGH medical staff association, said there are a number of challenges and crises around health-care delivery in B.C., but what she wants to talk about most is the “inequity and disparity” of care that Island residents north of the Malahat face.

“We’re in dire, desperate need…” she said. “Living where [we] live, we do not have reasonable access to the health care that is provided to our counterparts in Victoria or Vancouver.”

She noted that Nanaimo Regional General Hospital serves more than 50 per cent of Vancouver Island residents – about 450,000 people – and is situated in the fifth-fastest-growing census metropolitan area in Canada.

There are 345 beds at NRGH to handle more than 400 patients every day.

“So that commercial we all see on TV where everybody’s complaining about health care and there are patients in broom closets and hallways, that’s our hospital,” Hais said.

She pointed out the disparity of tertiary hospital services in Nanaimo compared with Victoria’s two hospitals. Nanaimo has fewer than half of Victoria’s 844 beds. Nanaimo is adding its second cardiologist this month, whereas Victoria has 21. Nanaimo has one pediatric psychiatrist and 18 adult psychiatrists; Victoria has 13 and 82, respectively. Nanaimo has no oncologists and four general practitioners in oncology; Victoria has 40 oncologists and nine GP oncologists.

The absence of a cath lab in Nanaimo means heart attack patients across most of the north Island can’t receive cardiac catheterization within 90 minutes, so survivors are more likely to experience a diminished quality of life.

As for Nanaimo’s cancer centre, it’s in the works, but Hais said it’s three to five years away, while a patient tower is at least a decade away.

“The thing that worries me in that conversation is we’re not at at that table right now, we’re not having that conversation. Rumours in the background are saying possibly 2040 for a new tower,” Hais said.

She added that the cancer centre will cost almost $300 million and the patient tower will be $2 billion and noted that Nanaimo Regional Hospital District taxpayers will need to bear 40 per cent of those costs.

“I want to say thank you to the regional district board and the regional district hospital board for their courage and leadership in coming forward two years ago – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – in raising property taxes to come up with their 40 per cent,” Hais said.

Coun. Ian Thorpe, who chairs the regional hospital board, said putting aside funding for major capital projects demonstrates to the provincial government that the region recognizes the problem. He referenced the Nanaimo-Victoria health-care comparisons that Hais had presented.

“I think it’s vitally important that our community learns these facts and recognizes the seriousness of this situation with our regional hospital,” Thorpe said.

Coun. Janice Perrino said the only way Nanaimo will get the facilities it needs is by advocating to the province.

“It’s not that they don’t want to be there for us, it’s about money,” she said. “And we need to fight as much as we can because if we can get on the list, we can get those items sooner and protect the long-term future of our residents.”

Mayor Leonard Krog said considering the distances that patients north of the Malahat have to travel for health services, the region is “grossly under-served” in terms of access to care.

“I don’t offer that as a criticism of any particular government or any period in history, but that’s the way it’s developed and it is time to reverse it,” he said.

City council voted unanimously to write to the province asking for a patient tower and cath lab at NRGH, to ask neighbouring municipalities to do the same, to “advocate whenever possible” for those two hospital facilities, and to direct city staff to assist with a related media campaign.

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