By Heidi Bevington
MLA Bill Belsey and two representatives from the Northern Health Authority flew to the islands this week to investigate islanders’ concerns about the Masset hospital.
Mr. Belsey told the Observer he organized the visit in response to complaints. Last week, doctors working in Masset said the hospital’s future was threatened by severe staff shortages. All three doctors have resigned and are leaving in the next few months.
“I have been in touch with Suzanne Johnston who is head of the northwest region for the Northern Health Authority,” Mr. Belsey said. “She is over here along with Jennifer Kennedy and between the three of us we are going to be meeting with the health committee to learn as much as we can about their concerns and to deal with them as quickly as we can.”
Meanwhile, a petition protesting the erosion of health care in the Masset area is circulating the north end of Graham Island.
“The hospital is unsafe,” said Dr. Peter Rempel, who helped write the petition. “There are deficiencies in diagnostic services and staffing.”
The petition, titled “Save Our Hospital”, briefly describes the problems with hospital facility and staff shortages, and then says “Our doctors have told the health authority that we are operating in a dangerous manner and have offered many very specific solutions to our problems. They have been ignored. Conditions are so bad that our pharmacist has left and our three doctors are quitting permanentlyÂ… I especially fear that our hospital will be permanently closed.”
So far 600 petitions have been collected from the co-op alone, Dr. Rempel said. Volunteers are distributing copies of the petition from door to door in Masset and Old Massett and at the co-op. Every merchant in Masset has copies available. And people are being asked to bring petitions to people like the elderly who may not get out every day.
The northern health care committee – made up of representatives from Old Massett, Masset and Port – planned to present the petition to Mr. Belsey on Wednesday (Feb. 5).
Dr. Rempel and the three doctors currently practicing at the Masset clinic have also written a letter to the committee describing the health crisis and complaining about the inadequate. Committee chair Barry Pages will forward the letter to provincial and federal politicians
Masset resident Nick Grosse said the health care situation at the north end of the island is unacceptable.
“If I wasn’t such an optimist, I would say it was an organized reduction of services to the point that the doctors have said that’s enough and resigned,” he said. “All of a sudden the hospital is too old, but it isn’t as old as the one in Queen Charlotte. Whatever needs to be done, could be done if the government was willing.”
Old Massett Village Council administrator Peter Lantin said the village council strongly supports the petition.
“It’s been the hot topic around our table for a while now,” he said.
Carrie Samuels of Old Massett community health services said all the communities are rallying together to protect their health services. She remembers a similar situation when the Masset hospital was threatened by the Department of National Defence base closure. At that time, islanders came together to support the need for adequate emergency, acute and preventative health services at the north and south ends of the islands, she said.
At the moment, the Northern Health Authority has posted six positions for the Masset hospital: general practitioner, addictions counsellor, head nurse, general duty nurse, lab tech and pharmacist.
Hospital administrator Derry Martens has also reisgned, and will be gone by the end of February.
“It was a difficult decision because it’s not a good time to be leaving, but my family has to come first,” said Ms Martens, who is leaving for family, not work-related, reasons.
Ms Martens does not think the Northern Health Authority has singled out the islands for neglect.
“The islands are on par with communities of similar size in rural BC,” she said. “There are so many stressors on the health care system at this pointÂ… I don’t think the islands are being ignored by the NHA. They are aware of the situation here, but the needs are tremendous throughout the north and they have to meet all the needs of the north.”
NHA communications officer Mark Karjualoto said no changes are planned for the number of acute care beds at Masset hospital. Staff recruitment is an issue, but it’s an issue throughout the north because of a shortage of medical professionals.
“We will work hard to make sure we can continue to operate the Queen Charlotte Islands Masset site,” Mr. Karjualoto said.
Dr. Rempel agreed there is a shortage of medical professionals, but he feels the NHA is doing a poor job of recruitment.
“People are aware of the working conditions, and don’t want to work here permanently. Locums will come here, but that creates problems with continuity,” he said. He suggested islanders could do a better job of recruiting medical staff than the NHA.
Dr. Rempel practiced medicine on the islands between 1990 and 1992. He and his wife returned to Masset in 2001. He is a licenced doctor, but he isn’t practicing medicine at this time. He remembers working conditions in Masset being substandard in the early 90s, but said now things are even worse. For the doctors who work here, he has nothing but praise.
“These guys are heroes,” said Dr. Rempel.