The season of re-announcements is upon us

Written By Todd Corrigall

As the largest city and service area region in northern B.C., the capacity and services provided at Prince George’s University Hospital of Northern British Columbia (UHNBC) have been a political hot potato for the governing BC NDP and, specifically, Health Minister Adrian Dix.

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, health care services across the country have reached critical points, exacerbated in B.C. by a myriad of policy decisions and a rapidly growing cost of living and the ability to feel safe in the workplace. 

However, rural communities are facing this challenge more significantly than other regions.

Certainly, waiting 14 hours in an emergency room in Surrey is unacceptable, but realizing your local hospital emergency room or primary care clinic is closed suddenly due to staffing shortages, resulting in you having to get yourself hundreds of kilometers away for immediate care is a whole different level of unacceptable.

Landslide of announcements

On Friday April 7, 2017, MLA Shirley Bond and the then-BC Liberal government, announced a series of planned investments for UHNBC. In addition, this announcement included the approval for Northern Health to proceed with a concept plan that would explore improvements to perioperative, mental health, and cardiac care. All things that a catchment health facility should have in spades, being near the geographic centre of the province.

Since that announcement, things have changed. We had a coalition government formed, uniting the BC NDP under John Horgan, and the BC Green Party under Andrew Weaver. Following a “Confidence and Supply Agreement,” Dix became the province’s Health minister, a role he has held since. 

In holding that position, he’s been able to re-announce UHNBC projects and expansion on manymanymanymany occasions.

Some improvements made, but problems prevail

Now, not all regions have suffered the same fate.

The new Terrace Hospital is nearly ready, the new Dawson Creek Hospital is underway,new addition in Quesnel opened, and improvements are planned for Vanderhoof. These are tremendously positive stories for geographic areas the Province has often neglected. 

However, UHNBC receives urgent care patients from across the north, often flown here instead of Vancouver due to the proximity. It stands to reason they deserve the appropriate level of care.

This problem has so many layers it’s impossible to peel them all back. Staffing challenges, nursing shortages, mental health and addictions, violence towards staff, and resource shortages are a sample.

None of these issues are going away particularly quickly.

Safety should be top goal

So, what does a solution look like? 

For starters, staff, patient and visitor safety should be top priorities. Which means ensuring those accessing health services are not put at further risk by drug-addicted individuals using indoors. And to resolve over-crowding, we must create the space that people need to feel humanized by their healthcare interactions.

Next, we need staff enough to keep emergency rooms open so patients don’t have to reroute to another hospital hours away.

Resolving such complex problems isn’t straightforward, but the B.C. government could start with greater follow through on previous commitments, instead of incessant re-announcements and deferrals to the next election cycle.

Meanwhile, it falls to us, the electorate, to hold elected officials accountable for the promises they deliver versus the ones they just keep talking about.