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Campbell River doctors fear slow, inevitable erosion of hospital services

CAMPBELL RIVER — Doctors worry services at the Campbell River hospital will slowly disappear if the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) goes ahead with a plan for two new hospitals.
Doctors are particularly concerned with the wording in a letter penned by Dr. Grant Hollett, VIHA’s director of planning and community engagement. Hollett’s letter was sent to Campbell River doctors as a draft example of what VIHA was asking the doctors to sign, in support of the hospital project.
“One problem with this letter was the one-hospital model on two sites,” said Dr. Roy Minaar, who chaired a Campbell River hospital medical staff meeting Tuesday night. “I don’t really know what that means, it’s open to interpretation. But I believe acute care services will all go to one site and it won’t be Campbell River.”
Hollett’s letter revealed VIHA plans to have the physicians in Campbell River and the doctors in the Comox Valley working together as one cohesive unit.
“This project provides us with an excellent opportunity to create a new medical staff collaborative model between both communities that will maximize the quality and access of our services,” reads the letter.
The project, which still needs approval from the B.C. government, calls for a new hospital in Campbell River, located on the current hospital site, and a new hospital in the Comox Valley. The cost of the project is estimated at $550 million.
Campbell River doctors, however, have become skeptical of VIHA’s plans because of what they say has been a lack of information.
“A major concern is that, as we all know, it seems the hospital that Campbell River will end up with will be smaller and will certainly not be able to offer all the services that the facility in Courtenay/Comox will,” said Dr. Duncan Douglas in a letter to local medical staff. “I doubt the average person in Campbell River is aware of this and the public outcry and backlash once this becomes a reality is something we do not want to be a part of and certainly never want to be seen as being in any way responsible for, which will be exactly what will happen if we sign off on this question.”
Dr. Aref Tabarsi, a pathologist at Campbell River Hospital, said he disagrees with the two-hospital, one-staff model because it leaves physicians vulnerable.
“When we are the staff of both hospitals, we have no choice but to go where the employer (VIHA) deems we are needed,” Tabarsi wrote in a letter to the medical staff. “In addition, with the written North Island hospital project/plan that says very clearly all the specialty (regional) services including 24/7 trauma level III would be located at Comox Valley hospital, where do you think the direction of staff movement is going to be? It is quite obvious that is going to be south to Comox Valley.
“It seems after six years of hard work, VIHA has never deviated from its original agenda of taking all the specialty services out of Campbell River,” Tabarsi said. “I simply would like to know why VIHA is pushing for one medical staff, so hard, to a degree that if not realized the new two hospital plan for North Island would fall through. If that is the case, I personally prefer status quo. I simply do not wish to pay more taxes to replace our current functioning hospital with a brand new old age home care.”
VIHA’s concept paper for the new hospitals says Campbell River hospital can expect an increase of 30 to 35 beds, for a total of 90 to 95 and that “all currently provided services will continue at the new hospital.”
Coun. Claire Moglove, who sits on the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital Board said she has been reassured that Campbell River will not lose any of its current services.
“I’ve seen diagrams of services at the two hospitals and I don’t have the same feeling that we’re being led down the garden path,” Moglove said.
Dr. John Penhall told the group of medical staff it should wait and see what VIHA’s plans are before hitting the panic button.
“We can’t be conspiracy theorists,” Penhall said. “I don’t think they’re out to get us. This needs to be taken up at a political level.”
Mayor Walter Jakeway said city council will fight for a new hospital that fits the community’s needs and will take the battle to the provincial government.
“I think you should leave it up to us, it’s the only way to turn it around and they’ll listen,” Jakeway told the medical staff. “We’ll go over (VIHA CEO) Howard’s (Waldner) head. The doctors don’t need to fight the battle, we’ll pick it up. We’ll go after Victoria.”
In the end, Dr. Joe Krysl made a motion for Campbell River medical staff to write an open letter to the minister of health and Waldner asking for new infrastructure for the North Island, with two new hospitals appropriate to each community’s needs, and expressing that the model put forward by VIHA is not appropriate and further that the planning process to date has been fraught with lack of communication, transparency and inclusiveness.
The motion passed unanimously. Jakeway said council would also sign the letter.

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