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The high costs of a health-care crisis in rural B.C.


Health care in Chetwynd, about 1,100 kilometers northeast of Vancouver, is so intermittent that Ashley MacWilliam fears it will put people like her asthmatic daughter Aurora at risk. .

Hospitals in the community about 2,500 people have at least 13 closed short last year.

MacWilliam said: ‘Even a few weeks ago she had an asthma attack and we had to call ahead to make sure the hospital was open because the closest hospital to us is about an hour’s drive away if the weather is good.

To make matters worse, Northern Health, the agency responsible for Chetwynd Hospital and healthcare in the northern half of the province, has stopped posting public notices of the closures, also known as transfers. direction, the 29-year-old said. Instead, they posted to community Facebook groups — with many residents create Facebook post require more transparency.

A woman in a flowing white dress holds hands with a man in a pink shirt and a girl in a pink dress in a jungle environment.
Ashley MacWilliam, whose daughter has asthma, said she had to call ahead to make sure the hospital in her town was still accepting patients. (Posted by Ashley MacWilliam)

Chetwynd is among dozens of communities that have had to close their hospitals in the past year, and advocates are demanding that rural residents be subsidized for health-care system-related costs they deem unscrupulous. stable.

For example, MacWilliam says accessing ambulances in her community has been difficult lately, with wait times of up to 40 minutes – much higher than in the past. Mandatory “target time” nine minutes.

“If it’s life-threatening, there’s no guarantee someone will be around to help you,” she says.

Hospital closures – especially without public announcement – can lead to vulnerable people residents, including the elderly, dead or seriously injured, she said, noting that healthcare facilities in the area are spreading.

She said the inconsistency can be “very scary,” adding that some relatives had had to stay overnight in Dawson Creek because Chetwynd’s hospital had closed.

Northern Health said in a statement that it was in a difficult position.

A Northern Health spokesperson said in a statement: “When the cause of service interruption is sudden or unexpected, or occurs after hours, providing real-time public notice is available. challenges – including the announcement that regular services are back up and running.”

“Northern Health does its best to prevent service disruptions and works to limit their duration … and impact patient care when they unfortunately occur.”

Rural residents pay an extra $2k for health care: study

Jude Kornelsen, co-director of the Center for Rural Health Research at the University of British Columbia, said costs could rise for rural BC residents if they Primary care provider have to keep diverting and they have to travel.

A peer-reviewed study called “Rural Tax” has Kornelsen in the lead in 2021 shows that rural residents pay an average of $2,044 in out-of-pocket costs when trying to access health care — including meals, accommodation, and specialty services.

The study, based on a survey of more than 300 respondents, found they spend an average of $856 on travel and $674 on accommodation.

A chart from a study.  The average price of a shipping method is listed on the left, the percentage of respondents who used that method is listed on the right.  85% of respondents spent an average of $554 on gas in this study, with the next highest figure being 32% of respondents spending $155 on parking.
A chart from Dr Jude Kornelsen’s 2021 study shows that gas and parking are the most common expenses for people seeking healthcare in rural BC. so residents do not have to spend money on accommodation. (BMC Health Services Research)

“Nearly 60 percent of respondents said… out-of-pocket expenses or travel had a negative impact on their health,” Kornelsen said in an interview.

She added: “People with lower socioeconomic status often have a greater need for health services. “These are the people traveling to access health care, unsubsidized, most impacted.”

Less focus, more autonomy: support

Paul Adams, director of advocacy group BC Rural Health Network, said health care instability can also take a toll on morale and systemic.

“I would say rural residents across BC believe they have been in a health care crisis for several decades,” he said.

And the consequences of underinvesting in health care are getting worse, he said.

Adams was among the inhabitants, including the mayorcalled for the elimination of centralized health care agencies and for more autonomy for the community.

“Centralization has practically eliminated any participation in the voices of residents in their communities,” he said. “There is a real need to bring rural voices … back to managing their own health.”

These challenges are intertwined with those faced by indigenous peoples in remote areas, Kornelsen said, adding that the government should fully cover transportation costs to and from hospitals. .

She said the province should also consider primary carecreate outreach clinics like people in rural Australia to allow access to professionals and increase accessibility to virtual health.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Health said: provincial medical examination and treatment plan offers some public transport discounts for those who sign up in advance. northern health and Interior Health has its own program with preferential ticket prices.

Additionally, the spokesperson said BC’s Practice Readiness Assessment, a pathway for internationally qualified GPs to be licensed to work in BC, will triple in size from 32 to 96 in March 2024.

“Half of graduates from the program are brought into rural communities through Return of Service arrangements; the other half are placed into the Primary Care Network with critical staffing needs.”

The province is also stepping up measures to encourage support staff and doctors to settle in smaller communities throughout the year, the spokesperson said.

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