Universal health care doesn’t mean everyone in the Interior Health region has access to health care.
Rural communities in the South and North Shuswap areas are but two examples within IH where access to medical services is limited, causing affected residents to stand together in coalitions to advocate to maintain local health-care access.
A UBC Okanagan research project has undertaken an assessment of the successes and challenges faced by seven rural health citizen coalition groups within the IH.
Some groups have been more successful than others in meeting their needs, and the research project aims to understand better what makes the difference.
The research team will gather for a meeting in April with study group participants across the Interior Health region, to pass on their findings based on the research data collected and analyzed, and make recommendations on how their efforts can be maximized for positive benefit, and also suggest policy changes at the regional and provincial health-care management levels to enhance rural health-care options.
The seven coalition groups represented in the research effort include two North and South Shuswap groups and others in Lake Country, Princeton and Cache Creek/Ashcroft.
At a forum held last Tuesday at the UBCO campus in Kelowna, Kathy Rush, an associate professor with the UBCO School of Nursing, and Mike Chiasson, professor with the UBCO Faculty of Management, offered some insights into their initial research findings.
The Sorrento Health Care Centre support coalition was represented at the forum by Marilyn Clark, chair of the centre’s health-care committee group.
Clark said the health care concerns for Sorrento residents, an unincorporated community of about 1,500 people in the South Shuswap, began when the only local doctor decided to retire after 35 years of service.
He managed to find a replacement to take over his practice, but that doctor, in turn, soon after decided to move to Salmon Arm, to work in the larger urban centre with more available medical care support services.
That scenario left area residents to form a coalition to advocate for Interior Health to find a way to provide a family doctor to set up shop in Sorrento.
Through fundraising efforts and dogged persistence to rally political support, the Sorrento group received a three-year grant to operate the health-care centre, and IH agreed to funding to pay one nurse practitioner to work out of the centre.
The clinic has been operating since November 2013, and the coalition continues fundraising efforts to cover ongoing operating costs for the clinic.
“We feel we have made great strides forward, but we are trying to get a second nurse practitioner… So far we have been turned down by IH for funding, or to recruit a physician,” Clark said.
Clark said her advice to similar citizen-led coalition efforts is to be courageous in want you want to accomplish. “Shoot for the moon and don’t feel bad if don’t get all you want at first,” she said.
Clark said Sorrento has benefited from being a retirement community, with many residents able to bring a wide variety of skilled backgrounds to volunteer behind the local health-care cause.
“Half an hour may not seem like much, but as retired people grow older, we want to have health care in the community where we live,” said Clark, adding that the commuter trek on the Trans-Canada Highway to Salmon Arm can be a dangerous driving adventure, especially in winter.
She said there is also an economic factor at play, as local residents may stop for lunch or do some shopping if forced to go to Salmon Arm – money that could easily be spent in Sorrento’s business community if a local health-centre is provided.
“The economic factor of heath-care services is something the UBCO research people have brought up to us, something that is generally overlooked,” Clark said.
Clark noted the universal health-care conflict does come up, especially during fundraising initiatives, when people ask why is fundraising required when health care is supposed to be a free service beyond our monthly MSP payments, and warning that once you start covering the cost for a health care service it sets a precedent that other communities will be called upon by government to follow.
“I understand those arguments and in our community, I should note, people have been generous and encouraging and excited by what we are trying to do. But we just can’t sit by and do nothing and not provide health-care services,” she said.