Residents outraged over ER closures
Jun 22, 2012 / 1:04 pm
It was standing room only at a public forum on healthcare issues held in Princeton, Thursday night.
Around 300 residents gathered at the Riverside Community Centre to discuss concerns about the emergency room closures at Princeton General Hospital and fears for its future with public officials.
“I am here because there is no ER and it seems like they are trying to shut the whole hospital down like they did in Enderby,” said resident Kay Goglin. “All I would like is some truth from Interior Health.”
Panelists at the forum organized by the Save Our Hospital Coalition included NDP Health critic Mike Farnworth, MLA Harry Lali, acting mayor Jason Earle, RDOS Area H Director Brad Hope and Andrew Neuner, Interior Health’s vice president of community integration.
Earle told the crowd that it was their efforts and actions that built the momentum leading up to the forum.
Now that wheels have been set in motion by residents, the town, First Nations, industry and the RDOS are scheduling a meeting with Health Minister Mike De Jong in the near future.
“Representatives are looking forward to meeting with the minister to discuss returning services to our community in crisis,” he said. “Then we will switch to retaining doctors here.”
“At this time we are more about finding solutions than pinning blame.”
Hope admitted the situation was incredibly complicated and that all rural communities have the problem of retaining doctors.
He described it being like cleaning your basement, overwhelming at first, but in the end doable.
“We have an aging population, a mine with over 300 employees and a mill with about 340 employees, so we need 24-7 emergency care,” he said. “We think if we can get the ministry working with us we can do this. I am optimistic we are going to make this happen.”
Neuner, Lali and Farnworth also told the crowd they understood their frustrations and expressed a desire to get everyone on the same page to make improvements.
Neuner said he has seen many communities in the province struggling with similar issues and knows what it is like to be without an emergency room.
To ease people’s fears, Interior Health has spent millions on investing in helicopter services to transport people to hospitals and continues to look at innovative ways to help Princeton and other small towns.
He stressed that the health authority was a partner and one of the best efforts residents could make to have better health care is selling their community.
“Physicians have an incredible number of choices of where they can live and practice so communities need to be welcoming and not be oppressive to doctors,” he said.
Emotions ran high as moderator Ed Staples invited residents to voice their concerns to panelists.
Many talked about the loss of services at the hospital over time, from no longer having an operating room to the current ER crisis.
Some described having to drive the hour and a half to Penticton for emergency care as a death sentence for those who have experienced heart attacks or strokes.
One resident spoke of a man waiting for an ambulance for four hours, just this week, after suffering a heart attack.
Jeremy Logan, a firefighter with the Hedley Fire department, read a letter he wrote about his mother’s recent need for care after a conflicting prescription drug overdose.
“Had it been past midnight that night she would have been take into the Penticton hospital and would have died on the way there due to the fact that she stopped breathing four times at the hospital here,” he said. “I am thoroughly disgusted with the fact we have no hospital for the stretch from Hope B.C. all the way to Penticton.”
The forum was the first open door meeting held by the coalition, which was formed April 10 in response to an announcement by the Interior Health Authority that beginning May 1, Princeton’s emergency room would have closures from midnight to 8 a.m., Monday to Thursday.
It began its campaign with a petition demanding the reinstatement of 24/7 ER services and the return of a fully functional hospital. The petition received more than 3,500 signatures and was sent to the health minister on June 1.
The coalition has also organized rallies in town. A United Steelworkers rally is expected to take place across from the hospital on Friday, June 22.
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