Health centre closures spark rally

Chase: Citizens draw attention to increasing problem with lack of doctors, services.

Chase Mayor Ron Anderson walks into the village office as a group of protesters gather outside with placards expressing their concerns regarding closures at the Chase Health Care Centre and a lack of doctors in the village.

Chase residents took to the streets July 14, in an effort to protect the future of the Chase Health Care Centre.

Sick of seeing signs on the door saying that services would be closed for yet another stretch of days, Val Donnelly decided to organize a day of protest in hope of getting the attention of government.

Donnelly is a Chase resident with a substantial background in health care, including a career as a paramedic and an emergency medical dispatcher. She was responsible for the start-up of the first responders in the North Shuswap, and helped out with the South Shuswap as well. Donnelly also ran for council in the last election, taking on the health-care platform.

Tuesday’s event was a success in Donnelly’s eyes, with 18 people showing up in the morning and many more dropping by throughout the day.

“It is a weekday; I understand many people have to work,” she said.

Donnelly says she received plenty of feedback from Chase residents throughout the day though.

“The most common concern is that they are worried about having no doctors,” she says.

At about 3 p.m. the group of protestors positioned themselves in front of the village office in order to meet the mayor and council as they were heading in for the 4 p.m. council meeting.

Most of the councillors  made a quick comment as they entered the building, but neither in favour nor support of the protest.

Mayor Ron Anderson was the only one to approach the group, having a quick word before making his way into the building.

“He asked us what we expected them to do about it and what it was that we thought they did in there,” said Donnelly, clearly unimpressed with his response.

Coun. Rod Crowe said that even he doesn’t have a doctor in Chase, that he travels to Port Coquitlam to see his doctor.

Ironically, the Chase Health Care Centre was closed during the protest, once again due to a lack of doctors, which Donnelly says is the top health-care concern for the area.

According to Bryan Redford, community area director for Interior Health, the Chase Health Centre was closed for 16 days between April 2010 and the end of March 2011.

“This is very good for an area like Chase,” he notes.

But the situation appears to be getting worse. According to the Interior Health  website, a lack of doctors has resulted in the issuing of ‘temporary closure’ notices for a total of 23 days from May, 2012 until now.

These closures have forced residents to leave Chase and instead go to either Salmon Arm or Kamloops for emergency care.

“From my perspective I appreciate that residents have concerns when ER’s get closed,” says Redford.

“IH is not happy any time we need to close an ER. We don’t have enough physicians. We need three physicians on any given day to operate the ER, in order for the doctors to meet demands of the clinic.”

Redford noted IH hired a second doctor on July 23, and is actively recruiting a third.

While three doctors would keep the ER open, Donnelly says she would like to see more, pointing out that Chase once had six doctors working at any given time.

Redford explains that Chase often does not have the proper number of permanent doctors in place to keep the centre open, but are able to do so through other methods.

“Any time we don’t have a permanent position we rely on locums,” he says, pointing out B.C. has a limited supply of physicians and even fewer locums.

He says IH continues to try to keep the centre open.

Redford believes that Chase does a great job recruiting doctors to move to work in the area, and credits the community for this success.

“Mayor Anderson and the people of Chase have done an outstanding job,” he says, “but when it comes to recruiting, it falls to the community and how they can present it.”

Donnelly, however, says recruiting is not the issue in Chase, it is getting the doctors to stay in the area. She says she would like to focus on the issues that are holding Chase back, identify the problems and find a solution to fix them.

“Why aren’t doctors staying in Chase? There are other rural communities around here who have less to offer and they do not have the issues that Chase has been having.”

Donnelly explained how when the Chase Primary Health Care Project was sold to the village, residents were promised a great number of services in return, including diabetic clinics, dietary clinics and counselling among others. Since then, Donnelly says, these services have been cut dramatically.

“If it is this that is holding our doctors back the solution is simple: get rid of the Primary Health Care Project,” she said.

Redford does not believe services in Chase have been officially cut  – there is simply no one there to provide them.

Donnelly says she is worried that IH will try to phase out the Chase Health Care Centre , which she says would be devastating to the community.

As for the day of protest, Donnelly hopes it attracted the attention of some government officials.

“Government has the power to offer the incentives that are needed;  local government has the power to go to higher levels of government to get the help we need.”

Redford  however, says Chase already offers a number of incentives.

“We have a contract with the physicians in Chase. We actually provide the clinic staffing, which makes it very easy for them to come into the community,” he explains.

Redford also stresses that when emergency is closed, it doesn’t mean patients can’t access emergency services. He says the ambulance service is available to transport patients to hospital in Salmon Arm  or Kamloops.

But Donnelly does not believe that sending residents to other areas is the proper solution.

“We shouldn’t be sending the message that it isn’t a big deal to head to another city for proper health care,” says Donnelly. “Many Chase residents do not own cars, or are elderly.

“The drive to Kamloops may seem short when you are leisurely making your way home from work, but it seems like forever when you are staring into the face of a loved one whose life depends on immediate emergency care.”

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