Pre-natal and maternity care in Southern Interior needs attention

Lack of doctors troubling

It’s no secret our community is growing, and the fastest growing demographic of our population is now the younger generation.

This is great news for our economy and our future but produces different requirements for services.

One of the services the younger generation cannot live without is maternity care.

When I first moved to the Okanagan 26 years ago, I was seven months pregnant with my first baby.

Finding a doctor back then was easy, and my delivery went smoothly. We moved a year and a bit later to Kelowna, and I was pregnant again with my second baby.

After finding a doctor, he suffered a terrible accident, and I was left without a doctor. Panic set in.

How could I be six months pregnant without a doctor to deliver my baby? I called many doctors, but none would take a pregnant woman. It was only through a friend’s referral that I was able to have someone take me.

And now it is even worse.

It was shocking to read the letter from the Central Okanagan Division of Family Practice when it warned local doctors of the shrinking pool of obstetrics physicians in the city. Next year, we are going down to 11 from 13, all while our population is going up.

We know that over the past few years our healthcare system has been struggling, but this decrease is worrisome as it directly impacts the availability and quality of maternity care provided to our burgeoning population.

The challenge is even more urgent when we consider the recent loss of maternity care in Kamloops.

Physicians there were delivering between 60 and 100 babies per month. With the unfortunate closure, Kamloops' expectant mothers now have to travel to other cities for their prenatal and childbirth needs. Their options include Kelowna, already straining under increased demand, and Prince George, which is far from ideal due to the distance involved.

That places an immense burden on our local healthcare infrastructure and, more critically, on the expectant mothers who are now faced with the stress of long-distance travel for essential services. It is not just an inconvenience but a matter of wellbeing and safety for the mothers and their newborns.

Many women in our region will have to be referred to the South Okanagan Maternity Centre in Penticton for care. While the centre provides excellent care, it is also not an ideal solution. Expectant mothers shouldn't have to travel such long distances to receive the care they need.

B.C.’s health minister has not presented any plan of action to address the situation in Kamloops or in Kelowna. This is unacceptable, and truthfully, it is already too late. Women who are expecting are already being referred to Penticton.

Kelowna should have comprehensive, high-quality maternity care right here in our city. Our community deserves to have these services readily available, and our healthcare workers deserve the support required to deliver these services effectively.

It is high time for us to prioritize and invest in strengthening our maternity care infrastructure in Kelowna, for the well-being of our present community and the generations to come.

My question to you is this:

What should be done to protect maternity care in Kelowna?

I love hearing from you. Please email me at [email protected] or call my office at 250-712-3620.

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


MLA accuses premier of "burying" BC Housing reports

BC Housing allegations

BC Housing is a crown corporation and reports to the minister of housing. Until recently, the minister was Premier David Eby.

BC Housing is in charge of billions of B.C. residents’ hard-earned tax dollars, given to it by government. Its sole purpose is to deliver on the government’s promised 114,000 units of housing, which it has failed at.

BC Housing should be held to a high standard of governance and accountability. But that hasn’t happened. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite.

For those who regularly read my columns, that may not be a surprise.

By now, many of you are aware of the inappropriate conflict of interest between the former CEO of BC Housing and the CEO of one of its key housing providers Atira, leading to some $90 million of funding that didn’t meet the proper governance test. That’s bad enough, but it actually gets worse.

It is now alleged by former BC Housing board members, that the board tried to warn then housing minister Eby about the potential for corruption but they didn’t have the evidence needed to take action. They wanted to hire a subject-matter expert, trained in examining organizational conflicts of interest.

This was because an audit by (accounting firm) Ernst and Young raised concerns about the dealings of BC Housing, and how it awarded contracts, but didn’t properly collect evidence of their allegations.

Instead of listening to the board, Eby fired them all, accused them of not doing their jobs, and “buried” the first Ernst and Young report by releasing it just before a long weekend.

But there is even more scandal. This Ernst and Young report came after an initial report from BDO that was also “buried” by the minister of housing.

The knowledge of this first report only came to light because of a leak to the media and when the Opposition questioned the premier about its existence, he denied it. Once it became clear the leak to the media was accurate, he reluctantly admitted the report’s existence.

So why did Eby fire the board members and accuse them of ignoring corruption within the operations of BC Housing?

It’s obvious now he was trying cover up so he wouldn’t have to pay a price politically just before he began his leadership campaign to become premier. BC Housing having a fiscal corruption meltdown on Eby’s watch would have led to uncomfortable questions and headlines. So, he threw the board under the bus and kicked the can down the road, past his leadership campaign.

Our now premier put his political ambitions before what was right. This sets a concerning precedent. What else is he prepared to “bury” to protect his political career?

The BC United caucus and its leader, Kevin Falcon, will not stop asking uncomfortable questions, raising the voices of British Columbians and advocating for proper governance in all aspects of BC Housing.

If BC Housing isn't working well, British Columbians suffer the consequences.

My question this week:

Do you believe this government’s housing plan will address our province’s housing crisis?

I love hearing from you. Email me at [email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Sending patients to U.S. for cancer care "too little, too late' says MLA

B.C. patients sent to the U.S.

The headlines have been shocking this last week as the B.C. government announced it was going to start sending patients to Bellingham, Washington for radiological cancer care.

On the one hand, something had to be done. The wait times in B.C. have grown from being the best in Canada in 2012 to the very worst. Every day a patient waits for diagnosis and treatment, their outcomes worsen. Having people get to treatment is the only thing to do.

But the decision raises a number of questions.

Why did the government wait so long to take action? My colleagues and I have sounded the alarm about issues in cancer care for the last two and a half years. Copious amounts of time were spent in budget estimates and Question Period March through May asking questions about cancer care wait times and what was being done to lessen them. The response was reassuring rhetoric that everything was “fine”.

But everything was, and is, not fine.

Then, as the story broke, further revelations of wait times actually being worse were revealed by BC Cancer were made, contradicting what had previously been stated by the health minister.

This was an attempt to signal how bad things actually are, far worse than the minister had previously indicated.

We already know this was true because of our experiences with cancer care, or the care of our loved ones. I have heard through emails and phone calls from hundreds of constituents with cancer about the difficulties with waiting.

BC Cancer is an extraordinary organization that is full of exceptional healthcare providers, but they are frustrated with the lack of resources, both human and capital.

As we heard more stories of the inordinate waiting times and the worsening outcomes, we pressed government for action. This action is too little, and too late.

The last time a government sent patients to the U.S. for cancer care was in the 1990s, under the last NDP government. This time, it will cost much more than it did back then.

Twenty percent of all B.C.’s breast and prostate radiation patients will be heading to the U.S. for care. The cost is estimated at $12,000 per patient, plus travel expenses.

The total estimate government has given is $30 million. Critics say the actual cost will be much more. Health Minister Adrian Dix stated the government will send just under 5,000 patients to the US. At a minimum, that would be almost $60 million.

It’s not just about taxpayer cost. It is also about the equity of the situation. Patients from rural and remote communities will have to travel even further for treatment, if they can make the journey, and they will have to have someone travel with them. What about a patient without a passport?

B.C. has the worst cancer outcomes in Canada and the worst wait times.

Cancer is a formidable opponent. It has affected so many of us personally, directly or indirectly, and the battle against it requires every resource at our disposal. It can kill us.

The government knew there were significant investments in cancer care needed and failed to take action. Now patients are paying with their lives.

We need a fully funded cancer care plan, and we need it now. Yesterday was already too late.

My question to you this week:

How do you feel about British Columbian patients being sent to the U.S. for cancer treatment?

I love hearing from you. Email me at [email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Busy session for Okanagan MLA

MLA lists achievements

Being in opposition isn’t easy, but it is important.

Sometimes we have to drag the government, kicking and screaming, to the right decision for the betterment of British Columbians.

As we wrap up the spring session of the British Columbia Legislature, I wanted to pause and reflect on what was achieved over the past few months. It's been an intense but rewarding session, filled with debates, dialogues and occasional breakthroughs that remind us why we're here.

One of my proudest moments was securing funding for the Starbright Children's Development Centre. The institution, a cornerstone of our community in Kelowna for more than 57 years, does remarkable work to support children with developmental challenges and their families.

Things looked dire in December without any funding for the centre yet, with the government focusing all funds for the valley on a hub model pilot project.

While the government promised other supports would be kept intact, that was not what was happening in the Okanagan valley. The parents rallied, the administration and board started to express how dire the situation was, and the Opposition MLAs sprung into action.

I had the privilege of bringing the “feelings banner”, which the parents and children created during a public rally, to Victoria. I delivered it to the premier. It's why I do what I do, to make a real, tangible difference in the lives of my constituents.

Finally the government relented and signed a new contract with Starbright for another two years.

The funding will keep the services it offers, providing much-needed support for the children and their families. The work is not complete however, as the contract was only extended by two years.

On the last day of session, Starbright’s leadership came to the Legislative Assembly to meet with government and Opposition MLAs.

When asked by the media, the minister agreed to visit, to see firsthand the work the centre does. Hopefully that will result in a more permanent solution for the funding it so desperately needs.

But why was it only on the last day of session that the minister finally agreed to come?

The events of the last day of the session continued, during the last question of Question Period when Premier David Eby finally acknowledged the necessity to consider protections for children's parks against decriminalized and open drug use.

Opposition MLAs asked questions in the house for weeks as to why drug use was allowed in playgrounds and parks, and for this to change. Many municipal advocates, including Kelowna Mayor Dyas, have asked for this measure of protection for B.C.’s kids.

The Premier's recognition is a step in the right direction, but rest assured, I will continue to press for tangible policies and actions to ensure the safety of our children and communities.

B.C. United leader Kevin Falcon declared his caucus was willing to come back to the legislature at any time this summer to pass legislation to make that measure a reality.

Passage of the Pay Transparency Bill was another significant milestone this session. The BC United caucus introduced the legislation six times and championed transparency as a means to promote gender pay equality and eradicate wage discrimination. Finally, the NDP brought in a bill during this session. Seventh time’s the charm.

While far from perfect, the the bill reaffirms our commitment to building a more equitable society, and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to support it.

As we bid goodbye to the spring session, I'm filled with gratitude and pride in what we've been able to achieve. From securing critical funding for the Starbright Children's Development Centre, advocating for safer communities, and supporting the Pay Transparency Bill, it's been a session of hard work, persistence, and progress.

When we get back to the fall session, I am committed to continuing this important work, to serve you better and make a positive difference in our community. The work we've done this session is a testament to what we can achieve together.

Having said that — I am so happy to be home. I look forward to seeing you around Kelowna and hearing firsthand what issues you are dealing with.

My question for you this week is this:

What is most pressing for you right now?

I love hearing from you and read every email you send. Email me at [email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna - Mission and the Opposition critic for Environment and Climate Change, as well as Gender, Equity and Inclusion.  She currently serves on the Select Standing Committee for Finance as well.

A long-time resident of Kelowna, Renee started, and continues to lead, many businesses from construction and development to technology. Renee is a compassionate individual who cares about others in the community, believes in giving back and helping those in need through service.

She values your feedback and conversation, and can be reached at [email protected] or 250.712.3620

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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