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This was the crowd before the meeting got started.
COMMENTARY · 28th December 2009
Walter McFarlane
I still remember the dirty looks I got back during the first Official Community Planning forum. The question was: “What would your ideal Kitimat look like?” My response was “More than just a retirement community.” There were six senior citizens there at the time and each of them gave me a dirty look.

But reminiscing aside, one of the major topics of this year has been the difficulties at the Kitimat General Hospital. Many people do fear that services are gradually shifting to Terrace to help balance the NHA budget. The hospital has stated that these concerns are not true in the least. Regardless, the concerns expressed at KHAG meetings are more then just rumours.

The initial discussion on this topic was a presentation to Northern Health from the Kitimat Health Advocacy Group back in June. Councillor Rob Goffinet and Mayor Joanne Monaghan took the stand representing KHAG and Kitimat’s concerns. The concerns included a reduction in nurse staffing levels in the ER, an endoscopic scope and most importantly a lack of acute care beds.

The lack of beds was a concern for Kitimat’s orthopedic surgeons as they were unable to book procedures so they could perform surgery. Where were the beds going? They were going to patients who should have been in extended care. It was too populated to take another patient!

At the time, Councillor Goffinet said of the surgeons: “They are, rightfully, being vexed by the incapability to go beyond trauma care into effective elective surgery because they cannot place their recuperating patients dependably in an acute care bed […]. We of course are concerned that our two surgeons, who are the core of the professional and specialty staff, at our hospital will leave. We do not ever want them lost to this system and we are very aware that the accreditation that they are now at allows them to go anywhere in the world. Both of the surgeons have expressed to us and our community that their absolute desire is to stay in the northwest and have their practice in Kitimat. They do not want to leave.”

Then the topic came up at a city council meeting. Members of KHAG stood and addressed the council about their concerns but it was Luella Froess who stated: “I don’t think the public is aware how close we might be coming to losing our hospital as we know it.”

Kitimat City Council resolved to try and work with NHA and other groups to free up acute care beds at that meeting, but Councillor Bob Corless pointed out that the Council are not experts on Health care. However, the point was made that Kitimat is drawing industry that Terrace is not. By shifting services to Terrace, Kitimat might not be able to draw in the industry.

That was the fear in the community. A concern that the hospital was going to reduce services to save money. KHAG meetings were almost shooting galleries between the NHA representatives and Mayor Monaghan, Councillor Mario Feldhoff, and Barbara Campbell.

A Gerry Hummel drawing from March (seen below) referred to the hospital as the Kitimat General First Aid Post.

In October, The KHAG meeting focused on the shortage of nurses in the Sacred Circle and trying to get Kitimat a voice on the NHA Board. The first problem addressed financial restraints being put on the hospital. One of the effects of this, was that nurses seeking training in Vancouver during an upcoming closure at the hospital would have to find their own way down and accommodations.

Another concern was that the hospital was not replacing much needed equipment. At the time, an endoscopic scope was to be purchased by the Max Lange Fund if the hospital purchased the lenses. However, this topic was as controversial as the rest. As Councillor Feldhoff pointed out: it almost felt like the hospital was not ready to replace it’s own equipment. This concern is near a resolution which will be posted later this month.

At the meeting, Barbara Campbell stated that she has made a four page long list of the commitments that had been made by Northern Health from 2009 that had not been followed up on. “It’s appalling. We‘re getting lip service from NHA, that’s all we‘re getting. Not good enough,” she said at the time. Later in the meeting, Mike Dray vowed to eat his hat if the hospital was not trying to reduce services in Kitimat.

Nurses were also a strong topic at that particular meeting. The themes of retaining nurses and hiring local nurses have been recurring themes through out the year. The problem is, according to NHA, there is a world wide nursing shortage.

However, topics of retention include a general lack of jobs in the Sacred Circle. Because the spouse of a Nurse cannot find work in the area, Nurses are not as interested in looking for work here. But there are other problems. One Nurse, for example, found her position cut for a nurse from Prince George who had seniority. She was given the option of moving from full time to part time, or to apply to another hospital. Unfortunately, the choice for her would become difficult as her husband worked in Kitimat.

“She has to make those choices according our collective…” said Daphne Gross, NHA representative. “Something is wrong with our system,” interrupted Barbara Campbell.

Which brings us to our #4 event in the top five most significant events in Kitimat. NHA organized a meeting in November expecting it to be poorly attended. They booked the activity room between the pool and the hockey rink. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how health care could be improved upon.

Scheduled for 7 PM, there was no seating left at 6:30. As the meeting got underway, a request came from the back for the speaker to speak up. People in the lobby could not hear him. There was seating for 70 people, maximum, but at least 175 turned out.

The people were concerned about the direction the hostpital was taking and the topic shifted to horror story after horror story after horror story about how the hospital was being mismanaged. Topics included Nurses, Changing Services, Extended Care and Acute Care Beds, Traveling From Kitimat to Another Community For Health Care, and A Response From Northern Health.

Whether the meeting was a success or a failure is still unknown. NHA was invited to another meeting in February to adress these concerns. Dr. Howard Mills on the other hand suggested during the meeting that the community achieved nothing by coming to this meeting. He thought Northern Health had not learned anything that they did not already know and accused them of not being able to provide an answer. He needed answers from them and wanted to find out what their commitment to our hospital was.

“If we cannot get a commitment from Northern Health this evening, then I’m afraid we have failed and Northern Health has failed us,” said Dr. Mills.

The significance of this event was that by flooding the meeting in such a manner, the people of Kitimat sent a message that we care about what is happening at the Kitimat Hospital. In addition, it served as a clearing house and made other members of the community aware of problems that we might not no about.

Recently, at a KHAG meeting, there was a lengthy discussion on the hiring policies of NHA as they looked for a Chemotherapist. You can find the article here.

There were more horror stories than I have room to write about in this Commentary. Links have been provided so that you, the reader can go back and look through some of the topics relating to this year. A reminder that anonymous comment will not be permitted on this article.

Come back tomorrow when our year in review will look at the events that took place in May. Alcan handed over land to the District of Kitimat. Kitimat Honoured many people who made a difference while church groups prepared for missions to impoverished parts of the world.
Joe Feldhoff questions NHA's Motives concerning the plans to buy an endoscopic microscope.
Joe Feldhoff questions NHA's Motives concerning the plans to buy an endoscopic microscope.
Gerry Hummel drew this comic back in April.  The sign says it all.
Gerry Hummel drew this comic back in April. The sign says it all.