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Nanaimo shelter worker’s death raises health-care debate in legislature

Health minister says province continuing to try to add doctors and improve primary care
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix speaks in the legislature Monday, Feb. 26, about the recent death of a 23-year-old homeless shelter worker from Nanaimo. (Legislative Assembly of B.C. image)

A Nanaimo woman’s recent death of an infection at age 23 raised health-care debate in the B.C. legislature yesterday.

During question period Monday, Feb. 26, Conservative Party of B.C. MLA Bruce Banman brought up the case of a Nanaimo Unitarian Shelter worker who died this past fall at a Vancouver hospital after months of allegedly misdiagnosed health problems.

“Sophia, like close to a million other British Columbians, did not have a family doctor and struggled to get a diagnosis for her rapidly declining health,” the MLA said, adding that the woman’s death was preventable and suggesting the health-care system in British Columbia is broken.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said the provincial government feels the grief of the community and the woman’s family, and said there is an independent review process in the works that he hopes will bring answers.

“It’s difficult under the circumstances of someone dying so young to bring comfort. But to bring knowledge of circumstances [and] improvement and review for the system, but also justice for people, that’s what we’re doing in that case,” Dix said.

The health minister pointed to changes that have been made to the primary care system and said B.C. gained 700 new family doctors practising longitudinal family practice last year, and said there are more than 200 new doctors in a new-to-practice contract program and more than 200 nurse practitioners in a similar program.

“According to the statistics that are widely used in this house, in the media and everywhere else, there are fewer people now looking for a family doctor today than there were in 2017 in the context of a time when we’ve added literally 700,000 more people in the province,” Dix said. “We have more work to do. We don’t see the significant achievements together with doctors of the last few months as the end of a process. But it’s the beginning. We’ve got to continue to do work, and we’re going to continue to do that work.”

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Nanaimo Unitarian Shelter executive director Paul Manly wrote an open letter about the worker’s death last week after the woman’s mother asked him to help amplify the story.

Manly noted that in Nanaimo, there are 20,000 people without a family doctor, and only one walk-in clinic, making it difficult for patients to get the care they need and deserve.

“Our health-care system is in a deep crisis. Our hospital consistently runs over capacity, staff are overworked, there are not enough doctors and patients are suffering the consequences,” Manly wrote. “In this case we lost a compassionate worker, and a mother lost her child.”

READ ALSO: Doctor shortage delaying care at Nanaimo hospital

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