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‘I’m frustrated too’: minister of health on Prince Rupert ER closures

Adrian Dix said the province is working to improve recruitment during visit to Prince Rupert

Health Minister Adrian Dix visited the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital during a Northwest trip on March 26 after a string of emergency room closures that has caused great concern in the city.

The emergency room has been closed eight times since the beginning of March due to physician shortages in a community that is 140 kilometres from the nearest emergency room in Terrace.

Renovations to Prince Rupert’s emergency room began on March 1 and should finish by May next year according to the Ministry of Health, which said the department will be expanded to “improve flow in a modern environment.”

Dix said the ministry is working to improve recruitment in the Northern Health Region where more than 130 positions are currently vacant in Prince Rupert alone.

“We have to address recruitment issues here. We have to address cultural issues here so that people are working together and we have to make sure that this emergency room is open to people 24/7,” he said.

“I’m frustrated too. We want the emergency room open, we’re going to do everything we can to work with everybody here to make sure it is, and that this situation, this uncertainty, is not long-lived.”

Northern Health has told The Northern View that an unconfirmed number of physicians will be leaving the area soon, with rumours of as many as eight physicians departing.

North Coast MLA and parliamentary secretary for rural health Jennifer Rice, who lives in Prince Rupert, who was alongside Dix on March 26, confirmed her family physician was also leaving the region with no replacement.

Chief ambulance officer at BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) Leanne Heppell was also in Prince Rupert after additional paramedic crews were brought to the city amid the emergency room challenges.

The crews — which Heppell and Dix heaped praise on for their work — include critical care and advanced care paramedics who are able to triage and stabilize patients before transporting them to the nearest appropriate facility.

“We’ve had this overwhelming response of paramedics across the province wanting to come to Prince Rupert to help,” said Rice. “And so I couldn’t be more proud of the team, but it is very difficult for the team when they can’t respond as fast as they would like to.”

The renovations to the emergency room will help with long-term recruitment efforts, according to Dix.

“It’s not important today or tomorrow that we’re building a new emergency room, but it is also the kind of tool we need for recruitment. The emergency room has to be better, and that’s why we’re spending 16.5 million on that,” he said.

“When you want to recruit people it’s not essential to have a new hospital, but it’s better. It’s not essential to have a new emergency department, but it’s better.”

The ministry will soon be updating the payment scheme for how emergency rooms are now staffed, according to Dix.

“We frequently pay people who work emergency rooms overnight through fee for service in some ways. Well, there may not be enough patients overnight to make that worthwhile. So we’re shifting to what are called alternative payment plans, but are really salary contracts where you’re paying people for the shift and not for the patients,” Dix said.

“We have historically had emergency rooms that have been staffed by family doctors in the region … and that contract in a number of communities is no longer working. We can’t pretend that we can go back to some time in the past, we have to create a permanent solution.”

Dix touted the province’s recruitment successes in what he said was a “record year,” though he acknowledged the ministry’s achievements may not be celebrated on the North Coast.

“People here don’t care — and they’re right not to care — whether we’re doing better than Sudbury or Toronto or New Brunswick, they care about what’s happening here,” he said.

Prince Rupert city council met with Dix during his trip to the North Coast after Mayor Herb Pond delivered a “strongly worded” letter to the minister regarding the concerning emergency room challenges.

Dix was in the region to announce funding for construction of the Dementia House in Kitimat where there have also been a concerning number of emergency room closures.

READ MORE: ‘We are working seven days a week… to keep the hospital open’: Northern Health

READ MORE: Adrian Dix gives the green light to Kitimat Dementia House

About the Author: Seth Forward, Local Journalism Initiative

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