Premier Eby discusses ways of healing urban-rural divide at Osoyoos town hall

Eby holds town hall

The provincial government is sharpening its focus on rural communities in a bid to ensure government policies are more responsive to the realities of the differences of communities across B.C.

“The strategy is about a few different things, but really, it's about deepening the connection between smaller communities and the rest of the province,” BC Premier David Eby said during a town hall meeting in Osoyoos Friday, alongside local MLA Roly Russell.

He noted that under the current environment people interested in working for the government tend to move to a major urban centre, which means have to disconnect themselves from smaller centres in the province.

A loosening of work from home policies for provincial employees also now means that: “We actually have people who live in smaller communities who are working for the provincial government designing policy, and they're able to make it more responsive to realities in different parts of the province.”

Healthcare is a key issue across rural BC and while here Eby paid a visit to the South Okanagan General Hospital (SOGH). The problems local communities have faced with the emergency department closures was highlighted by Dr. Alan Ruddiman, former president of Doctors of BC and a retired rural generalist physician who practiced at SOGH.

“It’s a complex issue,” he said. “And in the next one to five years, I really believe we're not going to be able to teach our way or educate our way out of this crisis.”

He added, “We're also not going to be able to spend our way out of this crisis.” Simon Fraser University’s planned medical school will be helpful he said, as long as learners don’t stay in the Fraser Valley.

Ruddiman also highlighted that the push towards specialized training is hurting rural healthcare.

“So, can we decentralize, getting learners out into rural communities to gain most of their education in the places they’re likely to work?” He noted the importance of transportation and housing “because they can't afford to come here on a student budget.”

In response, Eby said a key part of the problem at SOGH is the fee for service model which following the province’s announcement yesterday will see that model replaced with contracts between Interior Health and the doctors. This means doctors will get paid the same regardless of how many patients they treat.

The province is also working with the College of Nurses to fast track the credentialing of internationally trained nurses and is covering the expenses of those nurses for the assessment, and other expenses, to be able to assess them faster and get more nurses through the process.

Currently there are about 2,000 nurses working through this process.

“It used to take them up to two years to go through. Our goal is as little as three months,” he said. Two of those nurses are coming to SOGH and one of them is joining from another province.

The province also entered into an agreement with the BC Nurses’ Union “to recognize nurses for the important work they do to pay them appropriately.”

This has caused some nurses from other provinces to relocate back to BC, he noted citing the improved financial remuneration.

Eby also pointed to a new “physician assistant role” for internationally trained doctors to work under the supervision of a certified doctor and earn money at the same time.

“They're able to work as a doctor, they're able to take pressure off but they still have the supervision to maintain the standards and ensure that their level is where they need to be.”

He said 90 new spaces have been opened at UBC for those internationally trained doctors to be able to get credentialed and work as full doctors faster.

“We're done the same thing with the College of Physicians that we've done with the nurses, to get those doctors trained faster and for some countries like the United States to be able to work immediately in British Columbia.”

On other key issues, Times Chronicle • Castanet asked the premier what the province is doing to fill the gaps in the system around wildfire fighting. Eby said the province is in discussions with the federal government around how support can be provided across the country.

This involves both equipment and training, he said, citing the example of the Canadian Armed Forces who were only allowed to engage at the most basic “level one” firefighting.

“Some training for the military to get them to be able to do more complex firefighting is really important.”

He also said that within a number of communities it was apparent that the volunteer system, and local governments responding to emergencies was inadequate for the scale of the evacuations.

“We saw people waiting in cars overnight, for example, at emergency response centres and that can't happen.

“So, we're looking at ways that we can have a professionalized system to come and support smaller communities in the event of large scale emergencies so that the emergency response centres are faster.”

The online system is also being upgraded so that people don't have to physically go to an emergency centre.

This work will be “strongly informed” by a taskforce that has been formed.

“It's going to take the stories from people about what they saw, what those gaps were and start rolling it right away into provincial policy so that we're ready for next fire season.

“The preparation is already underway, because the length of the seasons are growing and we see no reason why we're not going to see really significant fire season again next year given how dry the province is.”

Contributed Province of British Columbia

More Oliver/Osoyoos News