Masset hospital threatened, doctor warns

  • Jan. 29, 2003 7:00 a.m.

The Masset hospital is suffering from a severe shortage of staff, which is making it more difficult than ever before to attract new health care workers, says a Masset physician.
The situation has become so bad that it could lead to the closure of the Masset hospital, Dr. Vanita Lokanathan warned this week.
“I think there’s a serious risk of the hospital closing,” said Dr. Lokanathan, who is leaving her position at the end of February. Another Masset physician is leaving within the next few months.
Dr. Lokanathan said she likes living on the islands and intends to continue living here, but is no longer willing to practice medicine here.
“The final straw for me was the closing of the pharmacy,” she said. “It has had a definite impact on patient care.”
The Northern Health Authority, the Prince George-based board which last year took over responsibility for health services on the islands, closed the Masset pharmacy in December, saying it had been unable to recruit a pharmacist to work there. Prescriptions are now filled at the Queen Charlotte pharmacy and delivered to Masset once a day.
But the new system means more work for the doctors and nurses. Dr. Lokanathan said she regularly spends half an hour to an hour on her call days dispensing medication from starter packs for patients who can’t wait for the next day’s prescription delivery. The physicians asked the health authority for two daily deliveries from Queen Charlotte, but their request was turned down, she added.
Recruiting permanent physicians is difficult for any rural community, but Dr. Lokanathan said Masset’s biggest problem is that the lack of other staff (like a pharmacist and a second lab technician) and the aging facilities make it an unattractive place to work.
“My big concern is that if it does happen (the hospital closure), it’s going to be portrayed as part of a retention problem,” she said. “It’s really a problem of inadequate facilities and equipment… The underlying issue is this place has never been funded for two sites.”
Masset doctors spent an evening last week briefing north-end community leaders about the crisis.
“People were shocked about what they were hearing, and we’re working on it,” said Masset mayor Barry Pages. “We’ve decided to form a sub-committee to sit down and address some of these issues.”
Mr. Pages – for many years the chair of the local community health council – said last year’s move to administer services out of Prince George has made it more difficult to lobby for Masset’s health needs. He said he was given two days notice about the Northern Health Authority’s Jan. 18 meeting in Prince George, making it almost impossible for anyone from the islands to attend.
Northern Health Authority communications officer Mark Karjualoto said the board is aware of the need for physicians in Masset.
“We’re certainly going to be recruiting up there,” he said. “It’s very definitely a challenging issue.”
According to a press release issued by the Northern Health Authority last week, the board’s top priorities are recruiting more general practitioners for Burns Lake, more radiologists for the northern interior, more internal medicine specialists and orthopedic surgeons across the region, and more obstetrical, pediatric, and ear/nose/throat coverage for Prince George. Masset is not mentioned anywhere in the news release.