BC ELECTION

B.C. political leaders reflect on rural health care as election looms

NDP leader John Horgan, BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson talk health care priorities in the Kootenays

NDP leader John Horgan campaigned virtually in the Kootenays on Monday, joining four candidates running for ridings in the southeast corner of the province using video-conferencing technology as the Oct. 24 general election looms.

NDP candidates running for Kootenay-East, Columbia River-Revelstoke, Nelson-Creston and Kootenay West joined Horgan on the call, who fielded a number of questions focused on rural health care challenges, wildfire mitigation for communities at risk and tailoring regional COVID-19 strategies for less populated areas of B.C.

Health care, both through the lens of COVID-19 and beyond, is shaping up to be one of the most prominent campaign issues for all three major politicial parties.

Over the last few years, the Kootenay East Regional Hospital District Board has been advocating for the development of a master plan for the East Kootenay Regional Hospital in Cranbrook. The master plan would map out future expansion and lifespan of the facility over the next decade, as the board is asking Interior Health to examine the feasibility of redeveloping areas such as oncology, pharmacy, microbiology lab and renal dialysis.

“We know this is a high priority, Interior Health has been working on it,” Horgan said. “When the concept plan is ready, it will come to government, we’ll develop a business plan and we’ll proceed from there.”

That master plan was put on hold two years ago as Interior Health suffered through staffing shortages, according to Dean McKerracher, the KERHD board chair, at the time. However, the pharmacy project has moved forward as a standalone $1.4 million budget item, while the other projects remain on the Interior Health priority list.

Horgan acknowledged the challenges of capital funding for rural health care facilities, noting some communities have immediate needs, such as Fort St. James, which has a hospital facility — which also doubles as a seniors care facility — comprised of three Atco trailers.

In addition to competing for capital health care funding, rural communities in the Kootenays and across the province are also facing a shortage of family doctors.

Horgan touted the establishment of urgent primary care networks throughout the province prior to the election, as well as campaign promises to further develop those networks that would bring together family doctors, nurses, health care practitioners to connect with patients to meet their needs.

He also highlighted the importance of physician residencies in rural communities.

“Having residencies in rural B.C. increases the prospect of those doctors staying in communities once they finish their residencies,” Horgan said, “so we want to encourage more people to come out of their med school, get into their residency in rural British Columbia because once you come to the Kootenays…people are going to want to stay there.”

In a separate phone interview, B.C. Liberal Party leader Andrew Wilkinson, also acknowledged the importance of offering a wide range of medical services for local and regional residents at the East Kootenay Regional Hospital.

“As a medical doctor, I can tell you it’s almost impossible to travel long distances for things like renal dialysis and for med[ical] microbiology testing to be done properly,” Wilkinson said.

“So the four outlined areas of oncology, pharmacy, microbiology and dialysis are perfect things to be done in Cranbrook because the next port of call is going to be Lethbridge, Calgary or Kelowna, and that’s simply too far to travel.

“We all know that.”

Wilkinson, who completed a medical degree from the University of Alberta and practiced as a family physician in rural areas of British Columbia many years ago before entering politics, pointed to pledges in the BC Liberal Party platform to train more doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals.

Similarly to the NDP, the B.C. Liberal Party platform calls for the expansion of primary care networks across the province. Both Horgan and Wilkinson also nodded to the challenges in certification for internationally-trained physicians looking to practice in B.C., particularly in the rural areas.

“We’ve put in the platform that it’s important to expand the access for what is known as international medical graduates,” Wilkinson said. “Whether they’re from Australia, South Africa, U.K. or wherever, we have to make sure they’ve got the ability to get into the system and practice where they’re needed.”

The Townsman has reached out to the B.C. Green Party and Sonia Furstenau for comment.

Just Posted

North Okanagan business Hytec Kohler set up a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Spallumcheen plant Friday, May 14. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
More than half of eligible adults in Interior Health vaccinated

Over 365,000 vaccine doses have been administered throughout the Interior Health region

Student-nurse Kendra Waterstreet administers the Pfizer vaccine to Litia Fleming at the Waneta Plaza vaccination clinic in the old Zellers buiding. Photo: Jim Bailey
Trail vaccination clinic readies for adults age 40+

B.C.’s state of emergency is extended through the end of day on May 25

Kerry Reed
West Kootenay Fishing Report: Spring fishing, the bite is on!!

Anglers having great results on Kootenay Lake and Columbia River

New Border Bruins owner Dr. Mark Szynkaruk reps team colours with his young sons and wife Tracey. Photo courtesy of the Grand Forks Border Bruins
KIJHL’s Border Bruins sold to Grand Forks doctor

The league announced the sale Friday, May 14

For something a little different this week, Trail Blazers is featuring an historical image from the Kootenay Boundary. This rough and tumble photo shows the Forshaw Ranch near Phoenix, B.C, circa 1914. Photo Credit: Boundary Heritage Facebook Page (via Grand Forks Gazette)
Trail Blazers: Home, home on the range

Trail Blazers is a weekly historical feature

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

Bradley Priestap in an undated photo provided to the media some time in 2012 by the London Police Service.
Serial sex-offender acquitted of duct tape possession in B.C. provincial court

Ontario sex offender on long-term supervision order was found with one of many ‘rape kit’ items

Rich Coleman, who was responsible for the gaming file off and on from 2001 to 2013, was recalled after his initial testimony to the Cullen Commission last month. (Screenshot)
Coleman questioned over $460K transaction at River Rock during B.C. casinos inquiry

The longtime former Langley MLA was asked about 2011 interview on BC Almanac program

Steven Shearer, <em>Untitled. </em>(Dennis Ha/Courtesy of Steven Shearer)
Vancouver photographer’s billboards taken down after complaints about being ‘disturbing’

‘Context is everything’ when it comes to understanding these images, says visual art professor Catherine Heard

Trina Hunt's remains were found in the Hope area on March 29. Her family is asking the public to think back to the weekend prior to when she went missing. (Photo courtesy of IHIT.)
Cousin of missing woman found in Hope says she won’t have closure until death is solved

Trina Hunt’s family urges Hope residents to check dashcam, photos to help find her killer

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Restrictions will lift once 75% of Canadians get 1 shot and 20% are fully immunized, feds say

Federal health officials are laying out their vision of what life could look like after most Canadians are vaccinated against COVID-19

Police are at Ecole Mount Prevost Elementary but the students have been evacuated. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Gardener finds buried explosives, sparking evacuation of Cowichan school

Students removed from school in an ‘abundance of caution’

A COVID-19 patient receives oxygen outside a hospital in Jammu, India, Wednesday, May 12, 2021. (AP/Channi Anand)
B.C. donates $500K to Red Cross COVID-19 relief efforts in India

The money will provide oxygen cylinders and ambulances for patients in communities grappling with the virus

Most Read