At a mid-afternoon health care town hall meeting presented by Surrey-White Rock MLA Trevor Halford in Crescent Beach Sept. 20, panel participants almost outnumbered the public.
Some 10 people attended the meeting, at Camp Alexandra, to ask questions and share experiences with Halford and fellow BC Liberal MLAs Shirley Bond (Prince George-Valemount, health critic and deputy leader), newly-elected Elenore Sturko (Surrey South), Karin Kirkpatrick (West Vancouver-Capilano), and Coralee Oakes (Cariboo North).
But Halford was unfazed by the turnout, noting the difficulty for many residents of attending meetings during a working day.
“We plan to have a lot more meetings of this kind, at different times, including evenings,” he told Peace Arch News. “I don’t care whether it’s four people or 400 – I’m willing to meet with people and hear their concerns.”
Even with a handful of attendees, serious questions about health care emerged, including difficulties with accessing services and support for both physical and mental health, closures of private long-term care facilities and problems seniors have with dealing with services that are increasingly migrating to online-only models.
“I’m proud to serve a constituency that has many senior residents,” Halford said, after hearing about one situation in which a 99-year-old resident had phone service cut off after a miscommunication with a service provider.
“I don’t want to hear about any senior being without phone service in my riding,” he said, promising to intervene in the dispute. “That becomes a health issue.”
Local support for residents is vital, Halford and Sturko agreed, as they promised help for a resident who has a family member whose quality of life has been imperilled by closure of a private long-term care facility, with few alternatives in the community, due to closure of similar facilities.
Sturko recalled that her Surrey South predecessor, Stephanie Cadieux, had had success in dealing with patients displaced by a similar closure.
“The best outcome is a local outcome,” Halford observed.
But the overriding concern for residents, it emerged from the meeting, is the ongoing shortage of family doctors in the province. As Bond pointed out, physicians in family practice are generally patients’ first contacts in terms of preventative care, testing and accessing medical or care facilities, providing important guidance at each step.
“I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that the health care system in B.C. is in crisis,” Bond said.
“We have, right now, one million British Columbians who don’t have a family doctor. Without a family doctor who is going to help you? You miss all kinds of opportunities for preventative care.
“When you call 911 you have no guarantee that an ambulance is coming, and nurses are getting burned-out,” she said
Bond said that, in July, BC Liberal leader Kevin Falcon and the party caucus submitted a 10-point action plan on the crisis to the NDP government, which included suggesting that limits on accepting internationally-trained medical staff be amended.
Bond said that many young graduates from B.C. and across Canada have pursued training overseas due to a lack of places in educational facilities at home.
“We want to bring these internationally-trained graduates back home – where they want to be,” she said.
“We thought our suggestions through very carefully, but the government has failed to respond,” she added.
“We’re going to continue to hold them to account, and make practical suggestions.”
Halford said he had received a letter from his own doctor telling him that he was scaling back his practice, and that his family might want to eventually consider finding another practitioner.
“Part of the challenge is that things haven’t changed in a decade,” he said.
“Doctors are functioning as small businesses – they’ve got to get rent paid, they’ve got to get and keep staff. I represent a riding that’s predominantly senior, when a senior goes to a doctor, there are usually a host of issues they’re dealing with. That means additional work – but there’s no fee structure for that.”
Sturko said that, during her recent byelection campaign, she met with many doctors and nurses.
“I’ve seen how desperate health care providers are with the government,” she said.
“Not only are they dealing with the significant impacts of COVID and the opioid crisis and the heat dome last year, they also feel disrespected by the lack of support from the provincial government.”