John White: Time to ask hard questions about hospitals

When is Castlegar getting appropriate funding for its hospital?

As we wait for the announcement from MLA Katrine Conroy Friday in Nakusp, which will likely confirm funding for that town’s 40-year-old emergency ward at the hospital, we have to ask … when is Castlegar getting appropriate funding for its hospital?

Conroy will be in Nakusp with officials from Interior Health to make the announcement, coming after Nakusp Mayor Karen Hamling said in November she was expecting a decision on funding for upgrades — estimated at $2.1 million — would be made early in the new year.

Nakusp is getting much-needed funding for their health facility — it’s been a long time coming to the village of 1,574 people. What makes it a difficult pill to swallow — pun intended — is concurrent and continued dumping of money into an aging facility in Trail while Castlegar’s 7,816 residents are forced to go without local 24/7 emergency coverage.

READ MORE: Letter: Time for a new central hospital

If that wasn’t frustrating enough on its own, we recently confirmed and reported a vast discrepancy in ambulance response times in the region — when transfers are factored in — with Castlegar residents often facing inordinate delays. Sadly, this has been an issue dating back many years and was highlighted by a story we reported back in 2011 that affected the Robertson family. The meaty line from that story: “Christine Robertson believes living in Castlegar may be hazardous to her family’s health after a recent experience transferring between hospitals in the region.”

We researched an in-depth review of wait times and presented that research to Conroy, who had no choice but to agree that there is a serious problem in our Nov. 30 story.

“From my perspective, that just doesn’t seem acceptable, we need to move it along quicker than that,” Conroy said in that article.

Despite these serious concerns, it was announced last April that Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital in Trail would receive $18 million to fund a new ER, with occupancy in the new facility slated for 2020. The members of the KBRH board have been very aggressive in their lobbying efforts for the funding, as you would hope for and expect, and Trail also needs 24/7 ER coverage. While the region needs a state-of-the-art ER, I debate the merits of bolting new construction onto an antiquated facility.

When you consider the limited remaining lifespan of that facility, and its location relative to the rest of the Kootenay Boundary region, you have to question whether pouring millions into that building is in the best interests of the region’s residents. This is not a new debate. You can trace back the animosity and political posturing over many years.

As reported elsewhere in this week’s paper and on our website, “Full hip and knee replacements at the Trail hospital remain on hold pending the outcome of a study into the rise of post-op infections. Elective (scheduled) joint replacement surgeries were stopped in December, affecting 37 people, after six patients were confirmed to have infections after surgery.”

“We are currently reviewing a draft report from the infection prevention and control practitioner who visited the site in December,” Jane Cusden, Kootenay Boundary acute health services administrator, told the Trail Times Monday.

I’m not suggesting you can draw a straight line in correlation or causation from the decision to upgrade the facility to this post-op infection crisis. But the optics certainly are not positive. The bones of the facility are old and that will have an impact on quality of care over time. There’s a point at which it will no longer be feasible to invest new money into the building and plans will have to be drawn to build an all-new structure in the region.

We need a firm commitment from the board and from the province that Castlegar will receive the emergency coverage it desperately needs. Beyond this, the region needs a fully-functioning and truly regional hospital that is geographically central to the majority of residents while offering state-of-the-art care for many decades to come.

The time is now to plan for an all-new facility, and it should be located in Castlegar. If you agree, contact the KBRH board at info@kbrh.ca and your MLA, Katrine Conroy at katrine.conroy.MLA@leg.bc.ca.

Updated Jan. 11, 2018, at 2:49 p.m. to clarify ambulance response time data includes transfers.


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