Overhauling the province’s health-care system to benefit rural communities was on B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix’s mind when he visited the West Kootenay this week.
Dix’s initial purpose in his 26-city tour was to talk about the HST referendum, but residents have a lot more on their minds, he said.
“We’re talking about all kinds of issues,” he said. “It’s really about what people raise with me, but I think the economy and the HST are really central issues.”
Dix is campaigning to have B.C. residents vote yes to scrapping the HST. He believes it affects all the most important parts of government — particularly health care.
“Especially when they’re closing group homes for people with mental disabilities and there’s great service needs here and they’re spending money on ads it’s a bit of a problem for me,” he said.
Dix described campaigning for his side of the vote is a bit of a David-and-Goliath battle.
“That’s where the challenge is: on our side we have a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of grassroots and the government has taxpayers’ dollars.”
Before becoming leader of the B.C. NDP in April, Dix was health critic, so the issue is close to his heart.
“We’ve seen, especially in smaller communities and rural communities in B.C., a consistent decline in access to healthcare,” he said. “It’s a huge issue in Castlegar and it really affects smaller communities in terms of diagnosis. There’s often a wait for diagnosis followed by a wait for treatment that a lot of people are facing, and I think those waits are especially acute.”
Dix said his approach is different and he’s looking at different areas of the province individually as each region has changing needs.
“We don’t want to spend the next 10 years dealing with the last 10 years,” he said.
Dix believes there is a lack of primary health-care services, such as home support, and the current government is focusing too much on hospitals.
“We focus on other important issues,” he explained, “how we stay out of hospitals, or how we stay out of long-term care as a senior and have a really effective home-care support system that works.”
Dix said as health critics, he and West Kootenay MLA Katrine Conroy have “visited more care homes than we’d care to mention” and although he believes many of them are good facilities he knows seniors would rather be at home if they could be.
“No one expects to have every service in their community if they’re living in a smaller community,” he said. “No one expects to have a cancer clinic in their hometown necessarily. No one’s asking for that. But if you don’t have basic primary care, home care and support services in a town as a senior, you’re likely to move into an area where you have that support … It’s not good for the economies in towns because those seniors are going to follow health care and if it doesn’t exist in a basic way that’s a problem.”
Dix said he doesn’t believe in centralization of services because transportation is so difficult for people in rural areas, but he’s planning to improve the ambulance service.
“It’s been tremendously short-changed and ambulance paramedics have been tremendously disrespected over time,” he said. “The only people in the whole public sector not to get the bonus that went to everybody in ‘06, ’07, ’08, and no real response to the issue of rural and remote paramedics, which affects lots of communities … I think we have to be flexible and take a look at what the best practices are around B.C.”
Dix said transportation is a situation that needs to be addressed quickly and properly.
“I’ve been to just about every hospital in the province in my role as health critic and to prepare for my role as leader and it’s a key question for everybody. “