BC ELECTION

B.C. political leaders reflect on rural health care as election looms

NDP leader John Horgan, BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson talk health care priorities in the Kootenays

NDP leader John Horgan campaigned virtually in the Kootenays on Monday, joining four candidates running for ridings in the southeast corner of the province using video-conferencing technology as the Oct. 24 general election looms.

NDP candidates running for Kootenay-East, Columbia River-Revelstoke, Nelson-Creston and Kootenay West joined Horgan on the call, who fielded a number of questions focused on rural health care challenges, wildfire mitigation for communities at risk and tailoring regional COVID-19 strategies for less populated areas of B.C.

Health care, both through the lens of COVID-19 and beyond, is shaping up to be one of the most prominent campaign issues for all three major politicial parties.

Over the last few years, the Kootenay East Regional Hospital District Board has been advocating for the development of a master plan for the East Kootenay Regional Hospital in Cranbrook. The master plan would map out future expansion and lifespan of the facility over the next decade, as the board is asking Interior Health to examine the feasibility of redeveloping areas such as oncology, pharmacy, microbiology lab and renal dialysis.

“We know this is a high priority, Interior Health has been working on it,” Horgan said. “When the concept plan is ready, it will come to government, we’ll develop a business plan and we’ll proceed from there.”

That master plan was put on hold two years ago as Interior Health suffered through staffing shortages, according to Dean McKerracher, the KERHD board chair, at the time. However, the pharmacy project has moved forward as a standalone $1.4 million budget item, while the other projects remain on the Interior Health priority list.

Horgan acknowledged the challenges of capital funding for rural health care facilities, noting some communities have immediate needs, such as Fort St. James, which has a hospital facility — which also doubles as a seniors care facility — comprised of three Atco trailers.

In addition to competing for capital health care funding, rural communities in the Kootenays and across the province are also facing a shortage of family doctors.

Horgan touted the establishment of urgent primary care networks throughout the province prior to the election, as well as campaign promises to further develop those networks that would bring together family doctors, nurses, health care practitioners to connect with patients to meet their needs.

He also highlighted the importance of physician residencies in rural communities.

“Having residencies in rural B.C. increases the prospect of those doctors staying in communities once they finish their residencies,” Horgan said, “so we want to encourage more people to come out of their med school, get into their residency in rural British Columbia because once you come to the Kootenays…people are going to want to stay there.”

In a separate phone interview, B.C. Liberal Party leader Andrew Wilkinson, also acknowledged the importance of offering a wide range of medical services for local and regional residents at the East Kootenay Regional Hospital.

“As a medical doctor, I can tell you it’s almost impossible to travel long distances for things like renal dialysis and for med[ical] microbiology testing to be done properly,” Wilkinson said.

“So the four outlined areas of oncology, pharmacy, microbiology and dialysis are perfect things to be done in Cranbrook because the next port of call is going to be Lethbridge, Calgary or Kelowna, and that’s simply too far to travel.

“We all know that.”

Wilkinson, who completed a medical degree from the University of Alberta and practiced as a family physician in rural areas of British Columbia many years ago before entering politics, pointed to pledges in the BC Liberal Party platform to train more doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals.

Similarly to the NDP, the B.C. Liberal Party platform calls for the expansion of primary care networks across the province. Both Horgan and Wilkinson also nodded to the challenges in certification for internationally-trained physicians looking to practice in B.C., particularly in the rural areas.

“We’ve put in the platform that it’s important to expand the access for what is known as international medical graduates,” Wilkinson said. “Whether they’re from Australia, South Africa, U.K. or wherever, we have to make sure they’ve got the ability to get into the system and practice where they’re needed.”

The Townsman has reached out to the B.C. Green Party and Sonia Furstenau for comment.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dr. Albert de Villiers, Chief Medical Health Officer for the Interior Health Authority. (Contributed)
‘People need to start listening’: IH top doc combats COVID-19 misconceptions

Dr. Albert de Villiers says light at the end of the tunnel will grow in step with people’s adherence to PHO guidance

(File)
One death and 82 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

1,981 total cases, 609 are active and those individuals are on isolation

Interior Health has set up a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in Castlegar. Photo: Betsy Kline
Castlegar doctors and mayor urge residents to take COVID-19 seriously as cases are confirmed in the city

“Your doctors would like you to understand we do now have Covid cases here”

Youth Climate Corps members April Gariepy, Summer Monkman and Linn Murray at work in West Arm Provincial Park, fall 2020. Photo: Submitted
Youth Climate Corps members April Gariepy, Summer Monkman and Linn Murray at work in West Arm Provincial Park. fall 2020. Photo submitted
VIDEO: Kootenay youth climate group works to protect Nelson’s water supply

Youth Climate Corps members spent five weeks thinning forest in West Arm Park

Midway RCMP’s Cpl. Phil Peters spoke at Greenwood’s city council meeting Monday, Nov. 23. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Good Samaritan helped Kootenay police nab, rescue suspect which drew armed forces response

Midway RCMP said a Good Samaritan helped track the suspect, then brought the arresting officer dry socks

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Another 694 diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. Thursday

Three more health care outbreaks, 12 deaths

Good Samaritan Mountainview Village located at 1540 KLO Road in Kelowna. (Good Samaritan Society)
First long-term care resident dies from COVID-19 in Interior Health

Man in his 80s dies following virus outbreak at Mountainview Village

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. (Quinn Bender photo)
First Nations renew call to revoke salmon farm licences

Leadership council implores use of precautionary principle in Discovery Islands

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

(Pixabay)
Canadians’ mental health has deteriorated with the second wave, study finds

Increased substance use one of the ways people are coping

A coal-fired power plant seen through dense smog from the window of an electric bullet train south of Beijing, December 2016. China has continued to increase thermal coal production and power generation, adding to greenhouse gas emissions that are already the world’s largest. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
LNG featured at B.C. energy industry, climate change conference

Hydrogen, nuclear, carbon capture needed for Canada’s net-zero goal

People line up at a COVID-19 assessment centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Wednesday, December 2, 2020. Toronto and Peel region continue to be in lockdown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19 vaccine approval could be days away as pressures mount on health-care system

Many health officials in regions across the country have reported increasing pressures on hospitals

Most Read