When Niamh Plaxton had her second baby in 2011 she was relatively new to South Delta and didn’t know anybody.
But by visiting the South Delta public health unit she was introduced to a network of other mothers, many of whom remain her close friends today. Plaxton said the health unit was her “lifeline” during a difficult time.
“Women who would have never otherwise met each other have formed these amazing bonds,” she said.
That same group who learned important lessons at the health unit like first aid for children and carseat safety, have branched out into the community to help one another with things like fundraising and childcare.
Now Plaxton is worried that community will suffer by the recent Fraser Health announcement that staff at Ladner’s health unit are being relocated to North Delta and nurses will support the South Delta “satellite” location remotely.
Although Fraser Health hasn’t confirmed the exact staffing change, the B.C. Nurses’ Union says that of the 19 public health nurses across North and South Delta, only 13 will remain by January.
That news led about 200 people to rally on Sunday outside the health unit in Ladner to protest the decision by Fraser Health and urge the regional health authority to reconsider.
“The concerns that people are having is it’s a very vital part of our community,” said Plaxton. “It’s the one part of the health services that gives the community an opportunity to identify and reach those who are vulnerable to isolation.”
Seniors and new mothers at risk to postpartum depression will be hardest hit by cuts to the health unit said Plaxton, adding there are “intangibles” to consider as well.
“It’s the moms that are at the health unit to weigh their babies who might walk by the nurses and say, can I have 20 seconds of your time?”
Plaxton said she’s been disturbed by the lack of transparency from Fraser Health since the announcement.
Although Fraser Health has stated services will not be affected, Plaxton said the very act of moving all the nurses to North Delta constitutes a service cut.
She said only two nurses are expected to travel to South Delta’s public health unit daily, which reduces the current staffing levels by between one and three nurses depending on patient volumes.
“If there’s only two nurses remotely supporting us, clearly there’s a cut in services,” she said. “Services may still be offered, but how and where?”
Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington said the rally demonstrates concern in the community is real.
“They know that if services are decreased at the health unit that they’re simply not going to be able to access them in North Delta,” she said. “Not when it takes an hour and a half and three bus transfers to get you up there.”
Huntington said with the reduction of nurses from both health units there will be a reduction in the amount of service provided to residents.
“I want Fraser Health to assure us, and show us, that services as they exist will continue,” she said.
Fraser Health has issued a statement to “reassure” residents of Delta that the South Delta public health unit is not closing.
“Any staffing model changes that may take place will not affect the services available to the residents of Delta. The changes to the staffing model are still being finalized at this time.”
Amalgamation of the public health units are slated to take place in January, 2014.