Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Taking on the rumours, updating the state of health care in Prince Rupert and area the focus for two hour Town Hall Monday

Northern Health's Julia Pemberton carried the bulk of Monday
nights Conversation on Health Care in Prince Rupert, providing
for a wide ranging overview of the state of care in the community
(image from MLA Rice's FB feed)

Monday night's Town Hall Conversation on Health Care hosted by MLA Jennifer Rice provided a snapshot of where we are at the moment for the community, with Ms. Rice's guests on the evening charting the travels of health care through COVID and addressing a range of concerns for a small but energized audience at the Lester Centre.

The evening was divided into two segments, the first started with some storytelling and a greeting from Tsimshian elder Murray Smith who then turned the microphone back to Ms. Rice who introduced the first speaker on the night, Julia Pemberton from Northern Health.

The Northern Health administrator carried the bulk of the information sharing and provided for an extensive overview of the recent transit through the challenges of COVID and took on a number of themes that have gained some traction in the community in recent months.

Ms. Pemberton's presentation though the evening included some stories of service from staffers at Northern Health which paid tribute to the work of those at the hospital and. in the health care professions in the community.

Her observations noting of a collective which is working hard despite many challenges that face the community when it comes to providing for services, with notes relayed on recruiting themes and how housing is proving to be a major concern towards attracting health care professionals to the North Coast.

"The people who are left standing in our health care system today have done the hardest work of their careers and the hardest work in the latest history in Health care. 

And Im so grateful for every single of them who continue to come to work, who continue to advocate for their staff, but also for their people and their patients and their clients.

And I don't know what our future holds, I have some plans and I do think that there is hope on the horizon.  But I just want to start by really thanking the community for their patience, in what the last two and a half years has meant. 

It's meant that sometimes we haven't been able to provide service at a level that  we used to and it still means that in some cases.

I'm just fiercely proud and protective of the people who continue to stand with Northern Health and continue to come to work every day and serve us. They don't need to work for us, they don't need to work here, it's a market where they can pick up jobs anywhere in the province and anywhere in the country.

So the fact that they continue to choose Prince Rupert as their home and Northern health as their employer makes me extremely proud of each and every one of them"

Among the themes of attraction of staff, the Health administrator observed as to how Northern Health had lost a potential of 18 recruits for health care in the region owing to the housing situation in the community. 

A new initiative on housing has assisted in addressing some of those challenges, though the additional issue of daycare services has been a recurring theme for would be recruits.

Of note of her compassion and pride for the staff of Northern Health and the challenges they have faced she observed how Health care in the region has been working with fifty percent less staff than before COVID, with the staffing levels a priority for Northern Health and the numbers starting to build up again, partially owing to some provincial funding to attract and retain staff members in the region.

"To put this in perspective, currently right now, it varies on  departments but overall in all of my centres I"m dealing with an average of fifty percent staff less staff than I had before the pandemic started and we're trying to deliver almost the same level of service. So this puts incredible strain on ever single person because their constantly asked to do more with less" 

The night at the Lester Centre served as a welcome update to a presentation to City Council in 2021 and Ms. Pemberton could point to some success when it comes to the recruitment of Physicians and Specialists since the 2021 review.

The Northern Health Administrator also outlined the continues success in expanding the mPCT program which adds to the health care options for the Prince Rupert area

Ms. Pemberton also provided some details on the work ongoing to try to address the some 3,500 residents in the community who currently do not have a family physician.

"What we're doing to close that gap, is we have our next GP who is going to have a practice will join us in early 2023 ...  our Primary Care Network which is a five year plan to expand primary care in our community.

Towards surgical services Ms. Pemberton noted that all three Prince Rupert Operating Rooms are in constant operation, observing that even with the much discussed Mills Memorial Build, that the capacity for Operating Room services at the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital will still be close to par with the larger Terrace hospital.

Fears of the Expanded Mills facility did dominate much of the night's conversation, both in the presentation period and in the follow up Question and Answer segment.  

The Northern Health officials acknowledging that while it is a concern for local residents, the creation of a trauma centre in Terrace should be considered a positive thing for the entire region, reducing the need for travel farther away should the situation arise.

The main focus for Northern health on the Mills Build is that the Region is gaining and Prince Rupert is not losing as a result of the introduction of a trauma centre as part of the new hospital build. 

Some of the other key elements discussed on the evening included frustrations when it comes to some of the services provided for the community, particularly with the lab work which as Ms. Pemberton noted came as a result of a significant fire at the hospital.

For those frustrations the Health Administrator offered up an apology to the community, noting that the staff continue to work towards a more streamline process that will reduce some of the often heard concerns over those elements of the hospital experience.

The lab improvements come following a 7 million dollar renovation required as a result of the fire which should make the Prince Rupert lab one of the more modern facilities in the Northern health region.

Some of the other areas addressed in the near forty five minute presentation  included  a review of some of the successful themes for Seniors Care at Acropolis Manor, Hone Care supports in the community and areas of improvement ahead for Maternity care.

The North Coast MLA added her perspective to the overview on the night by recounting the success of the community efforts during COVID and the roll out of the mass vaccination clinic and how it showcased the spirit of a community of caring, 

Ms. Rice also paid tribute to the health care workers in the community, noting that they are tired and have continued to serve the community during a very challenging period.

The MLA also declared that the Hospital is not going to be turned into a clinic, hinting of some additional investment for local facilities to come in the near future.

The second presentation on the evening provided a welcome tutorial on the current situation for the BC Ambulance Service in the community, with the Terrace based regional head of the service Tom Soames (who it was noted wanted to live in Prince Rupert but couldn't access housing) outlined the current status of the Prince Rupert Station.

He also outlined a training program set to get underway in Prince Rupert through Hecate Strait Business Development Society that will provide for additional EHS resources upon completion of their studies.

The focus for the discussion was on the challenges of providing for EHS staff with the region currently operating with 35% of its historical staff level along with a look at some of the process for developing and licensing paramedics in the province.

While the overview did offer up some hope that a stronger service is set to be put in place, the presentation on the night didn't spend much time addressing the current concerns over response times and the staffing situation that led to some controversy over the summer with members of the PRFD or others required for transport at times.

The third part of the night was turned over to the audience, a mix of residents, union representatives and current municipal politicians, or those perhaps considering a run for office who all took advantage of the forum to ask questions. 

Some of the themes were ones frequently heard, some of the past services offered at the hospital that no longer are, as well as the need for more travelling specialists to be based at the Prince Rupert hospital.

Concerns continued into the Q and A session over the looming presence of the Mills build and how it could be a magnet for health care professionals that leaves Prince Rupert in a staffing crunch and disadvantage.

The need for more autism supports, maternity services such as midwifery and Indigenous cultural models for maternity issues. as well as how Northern Health would respond to a natural disaster  provided for some themes.

It was through the Question and Answer period that Northern Health's Ciro Panessa provided for much of his contributions to the Conversation on Health, outlining some of the measures Northern Health has taken, updating the audience on areas where there could be changes and  noting of how he would take the concerns expressed in the forum back to the Board.

A union official thanked the Northern health officials for their praise of the front line workers, recounting some of the challenges that they were faced. She also observed for a call for a commitment from Northern for an audit of health care across Northern Health Delivery area.

Two long time advocates for Health Care were also part of the Discussion in the final segment. 

Tony Briglio a former City Council member, past Mayoralty Candidate and Regional Health care Board participant called for a Declaration of what services are provided at Prince Rupert Regional Hospital and which services aren't.  

"Lots of people that go to Terrace and I do that quite a bit because I have home there as well, they see the hospital and the immediate threat. Things start building in people's minds, what's going to happen to our hospital in Prince Rupert.

From the list of things that I've seen tonight, of which we're crediting the good work of Northern Health to get some of the things that we actually had many years ago and it's nice to see that
we're going to get them back.

My point is this, why don't we have a doctrine, or something that we can laminate on our hospital in Prince Rupert that basically  says this:

We supply these services, 1, 2, 3, 4.  We do not supply 5, 6, 7, 8 

That way we know Northern Health is committed to this community to supply those services and our hospital will not resort to be a clinic but yes it will be maintaining its legacy of a Regional Hospital that it once actually was functioning as"

MLA Rice noted how it was important to recognize that there had been a significant population drop since that period that he recalled, while Mr. Panessa outlined how the topic is one that could be discussed in the committee that has been set up and that better communication could be helpful in dispelling the myth of reduction of service or changes to the function of the hospital.

Current City Councillor Barry Cunningham  also spoke to a number of services that have been lost in recent years and continued his advocacy for their return, noting of ophthalmology and dialysis concerns to name a few.

"We've talked about services that we lost that are coming back, that's great to hear. And I would like to say I appreciate you guys having this forum and that we should have more of these to stop the mill rumour and everything else.

But the services that we've lost that aren't coming back are of concern too, they're usually day services like ophthalmology which we've discussed before, we've got quite a few people going to Terrace on a day basis.

Transportation you and I have talked about for years and it's still not solved and that and a lot of these people are elderly, have to have somebody take them down there. 

Dialysis is another one, we had all these services here, they've gone, some are  just not returning.

You've told me over and over again, data does not support them here, but you've never told me about the data when I've asked about it ... I know we've lost people to Vancouver to other communities where they could get the services.

The Question is when are these services going to be returned to this community and if not, when are we going to get travelling doctors to come here? As well as why are we having doctors travel here ...,  when they could be based here and travel to other communities. ... "

On the theme of Travel, Mr. Panessa shared the concerns over the need for travel, noting of some of the measures that have been put in place including the Northern Health Connections bus and other travel assistance introduced through COVID. With hopes for more and different supports in the future.

The Councillor followed up on the Health Care Presentation with some further notes through his Social Media feed once the event had ended.

For Mr. Cunningham, Councillor Skelton-Morven who also spoke at the event and any other municipal official or would be municipal official in attendance though, one of the key takeaways from the night should be how the lack of housing is causing some of the current staffing issues in Prince Rupert. 

That's a theme not unique to Northern Health, but likely one repeated by the School District, Port and the various industrial stakeholders.

That often noted theme is one that the current city council has stumbled on and the next City Council will have to address quickly lest it continue to cause for challenges for services and employment in the community.

Perhaps however, the best review of the situation and the most succinct view of where we are came from Port Edward Mayor Knut Bjorndal.

For his contribution to the forum, he paid tribute to the work of those  in the health profession in the Prince Rupert region and observed that many of the issues on the North Coast and perhaps in many rural and remote communities comes down to Provincial policy and the decisions that the BC Government make on health care.

"But what we really need is better public policy, you three people sitting up there are allocations of scarcity. It's the worst job in the world. 

You know when I look around we need 800 doctors a year; we only fund less than 300 spaces. 

That's a public policy decision by the provincial government. 

The other thing is we graduate twice as many lawyers from the universities as we do doctors,  so a friend of mind told me maybe we could sue our way into health. 

I'm asking you about this Jennifer,  you're the only one who hasn't answered a question. 

What is the government doing to fund more places and bring you know the doctor shortage into some reality.

We can talk about what we did tonight and it's very important. 

But without more funding, more doctors and better public policy we're not going to get there"

Ms Rice noted that the government recognizes the need for more trained professionals, recounting some of the funding that has been introduced in recent times.

The Port Edward Mayor hit the right note on his observations, our frustrations on health care should not be  dropped on the local health officials and those who provide us with our care. 

For the most part it seems that they have tackled a challenging situation as best they can with the resources that have been provided.

How the provincial government responds to our concerns will tell us what the future of health care will look like in Prince Rupert.

Those are notes for MLA Rice to take back to Victoria with her as her follow up to the two hour forum.

You can review the night's presentations from the Video of the Town Hall Conversation that has been provided by the MLA through her Facebook page.

For those wishing to separate the occasional Prince Rumour themes of the community from the actual state of Health Care in Prince Rupert, the two hour presentation provides a pretty solid account of where we are and where we many be going.

More themes on health care in the Prince Rupert area can be explored through our archive page.

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