DEBRA LYNN PHOTO The boardroom in the Port Alice Community Centre was well attended for the Health Forum AGM on March 9.

Reeling Port Alice facing emergency care cutbacks

North Island community feels like its concerns falling on deaf Island Health ears

Debra Lynn Special to the North Island Gazette

First it was the mill, then the community centre, then the bank.

Now the latest threat facing embattled Port Alice is a reduction in its emergency health care services.

Island Health vice-president of clinical services delivery Elin Bjarnason responded in a letter recently to concerns laid out by the Port Alice Health Forum about the looming changes. The response, in essence: the changes will proceed.

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Carrying “PORT ALICE LIVES MATTER” placards, nearly a quarter of the community’s 750 residents attended a heated Feb. 20 community meeting with Island Health to discuss its announcment that Port Alice Health Centre staff will no longer provide emergency or urgent (non-primary) care due to “decreasing utilization/challenges in staffing.”

Other changes would be a reduction from 1.4 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) physicians to .8, and a reduction from 2 FTE Registered Nurses (includes on call) to 1 Registered Nurse FTE (no on call). Emergency and urgent care will be provided by BC Ambulance Service including a contract with West Coast Helicopters out of Port McNeil to provide us air support with local paramedics.

In her letter, Bjarnason outlines the 0.8 FTE physician contract includes on-call provisions Monday to Thursday and a registered nurse will be scheduled seven days per week to support urgent, primary and community care. Also, the new social worker position will become permanent and the seven-days-a-week home care will be maintained and adult day programming will be implemented. Bjarnason also states the health care centre will not be altered without “community consultation and agreement.”

The topic of emergency care was not addressed, only “urgent care.”

Health Forum chairwoman Valerie Eyford said“urgent care” deals with issues like sprains and strains, urinary tract infections, moderate asthma symptoms, cuts or wounds, minor injuries, moderate backaches, abdominal pain and migraines. “Emergency care” includes difficulty breathing, broken bones, chest pains, serious burns and babies that are hard to rouse.

Bjarnason refered to the plan as “an agreed-upon model of care,” but Eyford said Port Alice residents don’t agree with it.

She called the process nothing more than an “illusion of consultation,” adding that except for mention of the possibility of having a nurse in Port Alice seven days a week, which seems to not be scheduled as such due to apparent “recruitment problems,” the proposal is an exact match to the one Island Health said it would be implementing when discussions began in September of 2018.

Resident concerns included an aging population as Port Alice transitions from an industry town to a retirement town and difficulties accessing Port Alice in winter, by road or air.

— with files from Bob Leask

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