Dix sells rural health care plan

NDP leader Adrian Dix reiterated his plan to restore services to Kootenay Lake Hospital Monday night while insisting he’s not simply trying to turn back the clock.

NDP leader Adrian Dix addressed a Nelson audience Monday on his rural health care proposal.

NDP leader Adrian Dix reiterated his plan to restore services to Kootenay Lake Hospital Monday night while insisting he’s not simply trying to turn back the clock.

“There’s no one more opposed to the present government than me, but we cannot go back over everything they’ve done and say our alternative is to return to the way it was before,” Dix told over 50 people at a health care forum at the Hume Hotel in Nelson.

“It’s not realistic in many cases, and we need to move forward and make improvements. Our starting point can’t be 2001. It needs to be now.”

While campaigning for his party’s leadership in the spring, Dix unveiled a $40 million rural acute care strategy that included returning general surgery to Nelson.

It also called for onsite access to a 24-hour CT scanner and a complement of critical care beds that he said would relieve pressure on the regional hospital in Trail.

In further explaining the proposal Monday, Dix said some of his ideas grew out of discussions with Dr. Richard Fleet, a former Nelson physician now at Laval University who did an academic study on cuts to local services.

“I think he has very interesting ideas. I want to see us making decisions based on evidence, and then assessing how we’re doing,” Dix said.

He would have an independent health policy panel evaluate the program’s impact after three years.

“We need an approach to health care that puts the evidence before other factors,” Dix said. “In terms of cuts to rural care, there really wasn’t an evidence test applied to the extent it needed to be. We should look at the evidence and observe what happens over time.”

Although a Trail physician criticized the plan, saying it would “destabilize” local health care, Dix says it isn’t his intention for one area to gain at another’s expense.

“The idea that this is a zero sum game — if Nelson wins, Trail loses — is one I reject utterly. That’s why the initiative would be province-wide. It would benefit this region as it would others, but we would not pay for it by withdrawing services in Trail.”

In fact, Dix said, he proposes to restore minimum taxes on banks, address the spiraling cost of prescription drugs, and restore corporate taxes to 2008 levels.

“Not to say we shouldn’t be competitive on tax rates, but it’s reasonable to ask corporations to pay their share,” he said.

Dix acknowledged many in the room would probably like to “blow up” the current health authority model, but said it’s not in the cards, and he would rather spend money improving services instead of “rejigging administration.”

“I’m not interested spending three years rearranging the bureaucracy of health care,” he said. “I don’t think we should be adding or reducing health regions. I think we should make the health regions we have work better for us.”

He is, however, willing to entertain having specific community representatives on health authority boards.

Dix said should his party wins the next election, within six months, “I’ll be back here as premier with the minister of health, having a meeting in this room and we’ll account for what we’ve said and the commitments we’ve made.”

The Nelson and Area Society for Health and Health Task Force organized the forum, which MLA Michelle Mungall moderated.

Many local physicians and nurses were on hand, including Dr. Jim Noiles, who said he was “astounded” such a forum was required “to make the point we need surgical services restored in our community … Without that we’re going to see the erosion of other services highly dependent on the operating room.”

Drs. Raz Moola and Carrie Fitzsimons also made presentations. More on what they said in Friday’s Star.

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