This past week Save Our Hospital Coalition conducted interviews with the two candidates for mayor, Rosemary Doughty and Frank Armitage, and the two candidates for councillor, Doug Pateman and Rob Rubis. Each candidate was asked nine questions regarding health care issues in our community. Here are the results of those interviews.
Question 1: If you become mayor/councillor, where would you place the health care issue on your list of priorities for Princeton?
Rosemary Doughty (RD): Health care would be my first priority. When I go door to door it is the only thing that people talk about. Whatever the community wants is what I would stand for.
My model of a good mayor is Walter Despot who worked hard for Keremeos’ healthcare. I would be involved in the issues. When I went to the ER closure demonstrations, I did not see the Mayor or Council there. I would like to see Council start a monthly open information session where they share with Princeton residents what they are doing and planning to do. If I become mayor, I would like to give more information and share more information. Leadership and being pro-active are part of my platform.
Frank Armitage (FA): Health care is #1 on the list. It is the most critical thing in Princeton. It has to be solved. Without health care we have nothing.
Doug Pateman (DP): As president of Highway Extracation and Rescue I believe that health care goes hand in hand with each other. We have to have health care here, extended healthcare and doctors.
Rob Rubis (RR): Healthcare is the pre-eminent issue that faces this town. Council needs to be supportive of what citizens are doing, and to take the lead where appropriate. Having said that, Council then needs to move on to focus on other issues, such as long range planning for economic development.
Question 2: Are you aware that recruitment of doctors is the town’s responsibility? If you are elected mayor/councillor, what would you do to recruit doctors to come to Princeton?
RD: It all comes down to money, promotion, advertising and incentives such as furnished living space. If doctors need incentives to come here that is what we have to do.
FA: We have to forget conventional ways. Money is an incentive but only to a certain degree. Put resources in place. We have to do whatever it takes to solve the short term 24/7 solutions. We have to get the input of the physicians in Princeton. While I was on council we met with Dr. Smith who feels that because of liability issues surgeries are not of benefit. I have to also point out what Dr. Adams at the Forum mentioned about the different levels of ambulance care. We have to pursue that. And there should be standardized compensation, a salaried approach to 24/7 doctor services, which would remove the “I have to get a certain number of patients” issue. We recognize all doctors must have an acceptable balance of work and lifestyle.
DP: I talked with two of the volunteers working in the SOHC ofﬁce. They did the job of ﬁnding doctors. There were grants that were supposed to be ﬁlled out and were not. I have experience ﬁlling out grant applications and Iʼm good at it so I can help with that. Also, I think itʼs important that when you know a doctorʼs term is going to be ﬁnished, start a year before to get everything in place to replace him or her.
RR: No, I was not aware of this. I am at the beginning of a long learning curve, but I am a quick learner and talk to a lot of people about the issues. From what I understand the money to get doctors here is available, but we have to attract doctors that want to come and live here. Providing accommodation is a band aid and may work in the short term, but why donʼt we develop a proposal to use the hospital to its fullest? The facilities are there that could be more fully used. For example, why not have people come here for a treatment specialty such as knee operations, then as they convalesce, they will stay here and provide an economic boost to our community. Why donʼt we try to attract a new wave of retirees to come and live in Princeton? I would work on attracting and retaining seniors and families so the town population is growing.
Question 3: Are you aware that rural BC communities are providing incentives such as free housing to attract doctors? What are your feelings about this practice?
RD: If it works, it is great.
FA: Who best knows but doctors themselves. We have to solicit their help. In the past we counted on IHA. In recent times that did not work. We have to take charge. Define our priorities based on budget. I commend Town Council for recently establishing free accommodation for locums. This approach may well be attractive to regular full time physicians.
DP: Nakusp purchased a home, wooed a doctor and family. If we have to give a little to get doctors, that is a great thing. We have to make our community more attractive (not the way IHA means it). I honestly donʼt know and I want to work on this together with the new mayor and council. What this town has been and could be is a big split. One of the problems we need to deal with is how to minimize the snowball effect of people leaving our community.
RR: I donʼt think it is just a matter of money. Although I donʼt yet understand all the economics and logistics, I assume that the town could also provide other incentives. I am not sure if locums are the answer. They donʼt have a connection to town. I think it would be better to ﬁnd doctors who will come to Princeton and be involved in town rather than someone coming in for a weekend.
Question 4: BC communities are competing against each other to get doctors. How do you feel about that?
RD: I do not feel it is right that communities have to compete with each other. I am of the opinion that IHA is not doing their job. If I become mayor, I would like to see the mayors in the region forming a hospital support committee, which would show unity between communities and a shared goal of increased healthcare.
FA: We need essential services. Normal hospital care has to be available and care for the elderly. Knowledgeable people from the medical profession have to be involved to see what is possible. What we have now is insufficient. ER is a must. Selection of a specific community by a doctor is a personal choice, we must ensure that our package is attractive.
DP: I will have to go deeper and ﬁnd what other communities are doing. Unfortunately this is what the situation is now. Is it fair? I donʼt think so personally. When I was asked to run for mayor, I did not think I would have the experience, so I decided to run for councillor. In the same way I feel that doctors should get their experience by ﬁrst going to a rural area. Competition is the way the world is right now; it is a fact of life. I donʼt like it, I donʼt necessarily agree with it, but that is life.
RR: That is why I am thinking that withdrawing from IHA is something we have to explore and see if it can be done. If we were in charge we wouldnʼt have to battle for everything with IHA. Besides, everything we get from IHA means that another B.C. resident living somewhere else might not get what they deserve. I think the idea of assuming control of our own health care has great merit. We have a huge resource of capable and talented people in town and by offering new alternatives we can draw more people in.
Question 5: What essential health services would you like to see at PGH?
RD: I would want to see an increase in hospital beds, we used to have 26 beds, now that is down to 6. I would want to get equipment back that used to be in the hospital and also get the right equipment. Money for our healthcare has been taken out of our community and been given to Kelowna. Our hospital had a kitchen and a laundry facility. I would want to work to rebuild the hospital to what it was 10 to 12 years ago.
FA: Obviously we must have 24/7 ER services. We must work with our doctors to learn what is realistic and practical and strive to have that level of care implemented and maintained.
DP: In 1976 the mine and the mill were here, logging was here and smaller branches. The hospital had a delivery room, doctors were doing surgery. That is what I would like to see again. As a whole we need to have a hospital where you can give birth; shouldnʼt have to go to Penticton. We had the beds and a maternity ward.
RR: Services that look after residents for the long term. We need routine medical services and after that we need to look at extended care, special services, and more extensive palliative care. We need to be helping people to stay in their own homes and help them to stay in their community once this is not possible. Why couldnʼt we have an obstetrician? There may not be many babies born in Princeton at the moment, but once you have the Operating Room facilities, people could once again be born in their community. As an expecting father I will make more than a dozen trips to Penticton, which is expensive and time consuming, but I want to be there for my daughterʼs birth.
Question 6: There are four different levels of ambulance care. We have the first two levels in Princeton, SOHC would like to promote getting level 3 ambulance care. What is your opinion?
RD: I would want to look more into the ambulance services. One thing I do know is that ambulance workers should get more money for on call duty. As it is now, people who are in the station and do a 12 or 14 hour shift earn $7 per hour. If an ambulance worker is at home and has to be available 24 hours they receive $2 per hour. Our health care problem does not end with doctors coming into town.
FA: Dr. Adams spoke to this matter at the SOHC forum. We definitely should have Level 3 (ability to resuscitate patients in transit) in Princeton. Level 4 if possible and practical as well.
DP: New recruits donʼt want to be here. They get their 6 week EMR course, then upgrade by taking the PCP course, which allows them to administer drugs among other things. New recruits are breaking their teeth in our community and then leave. They want to move on. There is not enough incentive to keep them here. There are 2 different levels of pay.
RR: Over the winter I commuted weekly on Highway 3 and have seen several accidents on this stretch of road. I think Princeton has a good case for extended ambulance services.
Question 7: An audience member at the Public Forum mentioned education as an important issue to recruit and keep doctors here. What are your thoughts on this issue?
RD: Education is a core value of mine. I served on the Princeton Child and Youth Committee for 13 years and developed an understanding of the grass roots community and the relationship to education and our children’s development. Our children have close relationships with their community. They know their extended families, their neighbours, their histories, the geography of the Similkameen, the political issues and values. Our children participate in community activities. Community is part of their education, personal development and identity. Urban children don’t experience this. Our schools have excellent teachers and staff who are connected to the community as well as the schools they serve in. The Community Garden at John Allison School is an excellent example of formal education and community involvement, which was created by teachers working voluntarily. In the Community Garden, children have learned to be self-sufficient, to grow their own food, to produce a cookbook, and participate in nourishment and good health. I value this relationship between community and education. Princeton is a leader in this respect. The idea would be to illuminate and promote the value of interactive community and education in order to attract the right doctors to Princeton.
FA: Key and critical. One of the things we have not done in the community is take advantage of untapped human resources. We have a large number of knowledgeable people in our community. I’ll be the first one to form advisory committees, giving specific tasks to provide recommendations to Council. For example: We would appoint 3-5 people with a professional background to serve as an educational advisory committee. This can be done on a cooperative basis.
DP: It bothers me that people are commuting here for work in the mine. We have to attract families and it will snowball. Increase the numbers, that will snowball. More students will attract more teachers. Those are the key issues.
RR: I read with interest and dismay the Fraser Institute School Rankings report for 2012. Why is it that other similar communities in our area seem to be providing better quality education than we are? It bears investigation. Just because we are a small community there is no reason why our schools should be in the bottom third of provincial rankings. I am also hearing of another potential school closure in the district. I have one child now and one on the way and I want them to have a quality education.
Question 8: Q: How do you feel about the idea of opting out of IHA and appointing a local board to run the hospital?
RD: IHA is top heavy and its roots into rural communities have been badly damaged, as demonstrated in Princeton. I would like to see mayors form a regional hospital support committee as well as recreate a local hospital board. I believe this is imperative to continued communication with IHA, on which we are dependent. I see a shifting of powers with the provincial elections hovering. Princeton’s SOHC has put rural healthcare on the political agenda front and center. I would like to see this local involvement remain in place. I believe a local hospital board is necessary.
FA: My whole life has been about jumping in and doing it. If that is what it takes to get an acceptable and comfortable level of health care, I am all for it. I’ll be right at the front, if this is the only solution. Let’s go forward collectively. This is the biggest issue facing the town of Princeton since 1950. This has to be the priority; a proper facility staffed with enough doctors, because the way it is now, seniors who have the means, are leaving. We have to pull out all the stops. I think that Jason Earle, Brad Hope and the stakeholders committee have done an excellent job.
DP: Isnʼt that what we are doing now? Volunteers who ﬁnd doctors? We just havenʼt made it ofﬁcial.
RR: If I am elected to Council, the idea of taking control of our own healthcare is very attractive to me. Everything I have read about IHA is that we have to ﬁght tooth and nail for everything. We are all busy people and it should be a given that we have 24/7 ER. Although the ER is important, we shouldn’t have to be spending so much time and energy on it. Instead, we should be focusing on the long term issues.
Question 9: Do you have any other thoughts you’d like to add?
RD: SOHC has identified and defined the crisis our healthcare is experiencing and has spoken out against the deterioration of our hospital. As mayor I would support this vital community movement to the maximum. I worked as an employee of IHA for nearly 13 years and saw first hand how the operating room functioned and saved lives and how the dismantling of healthcare services has eroded the capacity of our hospital resources and consequently the capacity of doctors and nurses. A unified voice against further erosion is vital, and a unified proactive movement to restore our hospital’s losses is needed. This is a long term involvement to put “health” back into healthcare for Princeton. The leadership and empowerment SOHC has provided needs to be officially endorsed by mayor and council, and if elected will be my first duty in office. Thank you SOHC.
FA: Why don’t we have a proper helicopter pad at or near the hospital? We have to learn from the Noel Ashley experience.
DP: I am willing to bet that our town is treated as not being as important as larger towns. We are understaffed, we are swept under the carpet.
RR: I am a late entrant in the race and have not been highly involved in any of the issues to date. People are going to wonder about that, but I make no apologies for this. My priority is my family and I have spent my ﬁrst year here ﬁnding and moving into a new home and searching for employment. Now that we are settled here, I am studying the issues and will pursue solutions with all my energy. There are many issues in Princeton and we have to set our priorities and then pursue them with vigor. Then we can succeed. I feel I have a responsibility to get involved and I have the tools to make a difference.