Kootenay Lake’s East Shore scrambling to maintain health services

Residents demanding better services after loss last year of a four-day-a-week health nurse on East Shore of Kootenay Lake...

The East Shore Community Health Centre in Crawford Bay.

The loss last year of a four-day-a-week health nurse on the East Shore of Kootenay Lake has pushed residents to demand better services, and to get creative in caring for one another.

“We have been trying to show Interior Health that there is a significant need on the East Shore, and that the split of services provided from Nelson and Creston really complicates life for our residents,” said Verna Mayers-McKenzie, who chairs the East Shore Community Health Society (EKCHS).

The loss of a health nurse compounds the loss of a physician who maintained a practice in Riondel until several years ago. Now, physicians travel to the East Shore Community Health Centre in Crawford Bay from Nelson to provide clinic-based medical services on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. A health nurse travels from Nelson on an “as-needed” basis.

“Outside of those office hours, we basically have very little ability to respond to emergent health needs,” said Mayers-McKenzie.

A report from subcommittee to the ESCHS describes the East Shore as a 60-kilometre-long region “stretching from Kuskanook in the south to Riondel in the north. The region contains some 2,000 permanent residents, swelling to over 4,000 in the summer months. In addition, hundreds of motorists and passengers travel through the area every day in the summer via Highway 3A and the Kootenay Lake ferry. During the winter months, Highway 3A is the alternate route for east-west traffic when the Kootenay Pass on the Crowsnest Highway is closed and, on these occasions, there are many additional people in the area.”

The East Shore population has a seniors’ population significantly higher than the provincial average, and it has one the province’s lowest income levels.

In an effort to determine the medical services needs of the large area, a survey was undertaken and a series of public meetings were held.

“There were never fewer than 25 people in attendance and we had as many as 45,” Mayers-McKenzie said. “We also had lots of mail-in and email responses, and had a much higher than normal response to the survey. There are a lot of really sad stories of what happens when medical services aren’t available.”

The health society pulled in Regional District of Central Kootenay Area A director Garry Jackman and former Area A director Larry Brierley to help with its efforts, and several initiatives have been taken.

“We have created a network of first responders. We used to have six volunteers in Boswell who were trained in the use of ICDs (defibrillators),” Mayers-McKenzie said. “Now, with the help of the Riondel fire department, there are now 15 more people all along the lake who are outfitted with ICDs and trained in their use.”

The society has also aligned with Selkirk College to form a partnership in which student nurses do practicum work at the health centre.

Meanwhile, society and community members continue to lobby for a regularly scheduled health nurse, meeting with IH officials and Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall.

While Interior Health CEO Dr. Robert Halpenny assured Mungall that “home health nurse services will not be diminished on the East Shore” last year, Mayers-McKenzie said that they have been diminished.

“We won’t stop our fight,” she said. “But on the positive side, our community is now much more aware of what services we do have access to. We have learned that we have access to some services on paper, but that we have never been informed of them.”

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