MLA Rice leads provincial health tour

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice is gathering feedback on access to maternal health care and more in rural B.C. communities

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice

While the big crunch on Canadian health care in the coming years may be the baby boomers reaching retirement age or older, it’s maternal health that shouldn’t be passed over in some smaller and rural communities, said North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice on April 8.

Despite Prince Rupert’s own centralized maternal care, many B.C. communities have a tough time coordinating services for pregnancy or childbirth and Rice, the opposition critic for northern and rural health, is touring the province to explore the issue.

“One of the biggest issues I hear about when talking about rural health is timely access to maternal health … The tour has been focusing on smaller communities like those on Haida Gwaii, the central coast and the interior thus far,” said Rice.

“The purpose of the tour is to hear from parents, advocates and service providers and talk about practical solutions so that women in northern and rural communities have fair access to basic maternal care.”

Rice added that the most cited need in Rupert has been access to a midwife.

“If an expectant mother wants to work with a midwife during her pregnancy she has to travel outside of Prince Rupert to access one. I do believe we have some excellent services available with the maternity team here,” she said.

In Prince Rupert, the MLA cited mental health care, addiction treatment and a chronic shortage of care workers, specifically for seniors.

“Mental health and addiction services are lacking in Prince Rupert. We have services but they’re not enough. We lack a permanent psychiatrist and addictions treatment options… People have to travel far away… for in-patient addictions services and when they do leave and come back, there is a gap between transitioning from treatment and integration back into the community,” she said.

In early April, an autism awareness walk provided exposure to the need for a centralization of services in Rupert, specifically in identifying and diagnosing the condition, which can only be done in Prince George, said organizers of the walk. Discussions are underway with service providers such as the hospital and school system to better streamline the process for autistic children and teens.

The piling travel costs coupled with the missed days of work are also an obstacle for travelling patients attending specialists’ appointments. Ophthalmology services are also needed in the city. The closest location in Terrace is currently experiencing long delays due to a backlog of patients needing treatment and surgeries, said the MLA.

Probably one of the most fundamental issues on the North Coast though, is the deficiency of hospital health care workers.

“There is a chronic shortage of health care workers in the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital including nurses and the health care aid workers in Acropolis Manor. They are often operating short-staffed. The per patient funding for long-term care is inadequate … People are living longer and needing heavier care but the human resources allocated to provide that care is not keeping up. This is putting a great risk to both the workers and patients,” Rice said.

Rice next visits the Peace Region, Bella Bella and Vancouver Island on the tour.