Temporary solution to lab issues doesn’t address root issues, says resident

Trent Ernst, Editor

Have you been to the health clinic lately?

If you have, and needed blood work or an X-Ray, you may have been put on hold or asked to go to Dawson.

This has been a cause for concern for a number of residents, including Ellen Sager.

While Northern Health has found someone to cover the position for the next few weeks, there is, as of yet, no long-term solution.

Sager says she found out about the issue when a friend told her that she had to go to Dawson to get her blood work done.

“This should not be,” says Sager. “For a place that is isolated and requiring transportation to many other centres it is just unbelievable that we are going to have to go to other places for blood work.”

She says people who need these services most are usually ill.  Many times they cannot drive. “They have to rely on friends in town to take them to in-town appointments,” says Sager. “Someone who is ill does not need to be travelling for services that should be provided at the Health Clinic.”

She says elsewhere in the province, communities have a bus service, and if not that, they at least have Greyhound. “We have nothing and it is time we got some service.”

This problem has not arisen in the past few weeks, says Sager. “The hours that these services are provided has decreased and persons have had to make appointments and come back on another day,” she says. This can be difficult, when you are sick and can’t drive. “And when you are a senior, your friends are usually seniors. Many seniors now cannot drive, cannot drive in the dark, or cannot drive in inclement weather.”

She says that people having to take time off work to go to a doctor’s appointment now have to take another day off to have lab or x-rays done.

“TR Cares does a good job in providing some transportation to other centres,” says Sager. However, she says there are many times that they will not provide service. “I know that doctors are being encouraged to refer patients to Prince George, but it is much harder to get transportation to Prince George than it is to get transportation to Grande Prairie. This is especially true in the winter.”

Sager says people try to make appointments in the middle of the day, but it doesn’t always work. “You try to have a day surgery that doesn’t have an early and late time.”

TR Cares can take a person in the day before, but this leads to its own set of problems. “The cost of a hotel is about $150 a night.” She says for seniors, this is a lot of money.

“Northern Health and the BC government need to realize that x-ray and lab services are needed more because of our lack of transportation to other places.”

She says that many of the town’s seniors moved here in 2001 and 2002. “They were probably fairly healthy then, but it is now 15 years later and the need for services has increased substantially.  The economy in Tumbler Ridge has had house prices plummet but, not only that, most persons who needed to move, were simply unable to sell their houses no matter how much they reduced the prices.”

She contacted Northern Health about the issue, but says the response she got back was not very helpful.

“As you know,” says an email from a Northern Health Representative she passed on to the Tumbler Ridge News, “Northern Health is one of the largest and most spread out health authorities geographically, we are the size of France with a smaller population. What you may not know, is that anything north of Prince George is considered rural remote, that is to say, the farther north one gets, the less resources, supplies and readily available services one can expect.

“At this time, like many other communities across BC, we are struggling to find employees to take positions in our facilities. Housing prices in Tumbler Ridge, lack of amenities such as a variety of restaurants and only one grocery store make it hard for people to want to move to such isolated communities. When people move to such communities, they do so of their own choice accepting a level of risk, such as sometimes having to be sent to a larger centre in urgent/emergent cases as is the norm in your community because you have a health centre not a trauma centre.”

The Northern Health representative says they are currently recruiting “aggressively” to fill the void left by the current vacancy. “Our employee there now, who is a long time resident, is doing her very best to provide service and most days goes above and beyond for the citizens in your town.”

When the employee is unavailable, every effort is made to get coverage but, says Northern Health, “the reality is there is no one in your town who works as a casual in either of those modalities, nor do I have a pool of people who are willing to go to the community and help, but when someone does come from another community.” Northern Health says the person currently doing X-Rays and Lab work will be hard to replace, as few people are trained in both.

Northern Health is not responsible for transportation as that does not fall under the Ministry of Health mandate, says the representative. “Again, living in a rural community such as Tumbler Ridge, one would hope this is a plan people make as they are well aware what the community can or can’t offer. In this regard all I can offer is that you continue to lobby your town and Council, your MLA and the Minister of Transport, or perhaps approach some of the up and coming industry in your area for assistance.”

Health care, says the Northern Health Representative, is changing, and unfortunately services need to change, too. “The government has different priorities and the money is not flowing as heartily as it did in 2000 or 2001. We can only do as much as we have resources and staff for. Our main priority is patient safety and good quality of care, that may mean accessing services at one of our other NE centres at times when it is not available in our home community.”

Sager doesn’t buy it. “Apparently we came to Tumbler Ridge knowing that it was a remote rural northern town so why would we expect services?

That said, Northern Health says they are working to get a second person into town. Moments before the paper went to press, Northern Health contacted the Tumbler Ridge News. “We have received a number of strong applications for the position in Tumbler Ridge,” said a person from the Communications Department. “We are in the hiring process and we anticipate we will have a new X-Ray tech that we can Cross Train to work in the lab dept as well.

“We are cautiously optimistic that the position will be filled in the next four to six weeks.”