Written by Debra Lynn
Port Alice residents might be experiencing some “déjà vu” these days with a removal of the x-ray machine from their health centre and the introduction of a shuttle service to Port Hardy for outpatient care.
Instead of having their health centre completely shut down, like Island Health attempted to do in 2019, the village’s medical services might be getting removed one shuttle bus ride at a time.
The portable x-ray machine, operating in Port Alice since 2022, was a temporary solution until longer term plans could be made. Island Health noted in a news release that the permanent x-ray machine that was in the building cannot be returned to service due to the lack of availability of replacement parts.
As such, Island Health announced free shuttle rides for Port Alice residents in need of x-rays and other medical services. The shuttle service is expected to begin by mid-April 2023. More details, including information about how to book your trip, will be posted at islandhealth.ca/nvi. Also, the Port Hardy Hospital is now open from 9-12 and from 1-4 p.m. seven days a week for drop in x-ray and ecg services.
In reaction to the news, Port Alice resident Cathy Anderson said, “Oh my gosh, I think we’re going to be left out in the dark!” She thinks that people without vehicles might have to wait all day to be picked up. She believes it will also be problematic for people who are disabled, since they will not likely be able to stay at the hospital and it will be difficult for them to move around town while waiting for their return trip.
Anderson is convinced that this is the beginning of a gradual ebbing of health services from Port Alice. If the village’s phlebotomist one day retires, she thinks her part-time position will not be filled and that residents will have to spend a whole day traveling to Port Hardy for a simple blood test.
After a serious health crisis, Penny MacSweyn says that she and her husband have been though “the most horrible year of our lives!” Adding to the stress of a severe illness was the expense of running back and forth to Port McNeill and Campbell River several times and the fact that they will have to do more of the same this year for, “in some instances, things that probably could have been done here.”
Ryan Wadsworth, who, so far, has had very positive experiences at the Port Alice Health Clinic, wonders if this event and the recent uproar between Island Health and Dr. Alex Nataros, may point to a decline in health services in the future.
Dan Green asks, “So what happens if you need an evening X-ray before medivac?” He asserts that we are taxpayers with an aging population that need immediate health care. He says, “It’s not fair for us to have to pull out of pocket … to go either to McNeill or even as far away as Campbell River.”
One resident who requested to remain anonymous said they think it’s “a shame, because, little by little they have been removing everything from our little hospital in Port Alice, transforming it into just a clinic.” They asked what people who don’t drive will do, and what happens if there’s an emergency and the ambulance is somewhere else. They added, “…you have to think of all the people living in Port Alice that are mostly seniors.”
Kathleen Cheecham speculates that, instead of having three x-ray machines on the North Island, maybe each centre could specialize in something: one centre does X-rays, while another does something else and so on. This way, “we can get the best bang for our buck out of one place and if people need to get a ride, that’s a smaller problem than raising the money for an x-ray machine.”
In this scenario, however, one might wonder if there would be an uproar from Port Hardy and Port McNeill residents if they were forced to drive one and a half hours and spend $20-$30 on gas or squander a whole day on a free shuttle service to go to Port Alice for a simple blood test.
It appears that Port Alice is another community that will eventually be forced into making that sacrifice for basic medical care.
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