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REPORTING · 5th January 2011
Walter McFarlane
Jonathon Cooper sat at the head of the Kitimat Health Advocacy Group (KHAG) meeting on Saturday, December 11th. A highlighted edition of the Kitimat Daily sat on the table in front of him. During the ‘Meat of the Meeting,’ Cooper was asked to deliver a report.

“I wasn’t at the last meeting and I sent a fairly comprehensive report, I know there was a lot of discussion around the report,” said Cooper before delving into his report.

Cooper stated the concerns around health care were not a new subject and not just a concern belonging to Kitimat but a concern belonging to all communities. “Health care is pretty much top of the community agenda, atop of the political agenda. Northern Health is aware of the importance of acute care services, home and community care services and also primary health care services,” said Cooper.

He explained primary health care; along with other services in the community prevent people from needing to access the services of the hospital, services which do not require people to go to the Emergency Room. Cooper said if people access the ER for primary health care, they are not seeing their doctors and the system does not work.

As an example, Cooper explained primary health care includes the person who goes to the doctor for advice on reducing his chances of having a heart attack. He could take the advice or he could choose not to. If he does not follow the advice, he could get sicker. If he does, his lifestyle could improve. Primary Health Care also includes things outside of the hospital. Massage Therapy, leisure and other services people can access to improve their health.

“Better to prevent disease and health problems than to treat them when they occur and that’s very important. Yes the acute care services are really important when it occurs and you need that intervention but also to have a system where we can be in position to avoid and to educate and to make those things available in the community for people,” said Cooper.

Councillor Corinne Scott said she understood a part of the problem was when the acute care beds are needed for extended care patients and the acute care patients can not get into them. She said the concern was extended care needed to be extended. Cooper said NHA is reviewing the issues and promised KHAG an update when it was available.

“Northern Health is reviewing what needs to be done, taking a global view of things and I talked about some of those other things as well. Yes beds are one piece of that. We also need to focus on the other services needed to maintain people’s ability to maximize their independence,” said Cooper.

Barb Campbell asked if there was a time frame for the extension and was told there wasn't at this time as it was under review.

One person at the table said he was concerned NHA might wish to centralize the health care services. He said some people could not afford to pay for health care out of their pocket. A trip to Terrace, taking the bus or paying out of their pocket can be out of the question if people are on limited funds.

Later in the meeting, another member of KHAG stated there was another problem with the busing. Patients needed to book their appointments in Terrace between the times the bus is scheduled as not everybody can drive.

“The health care system is not there to provide people’s transport. The health care system is there provide health care services. People do have responsibilities to organize their own arrangements,” said Cooper. “We don’t live in an ideal world”

Cooper said they have to act within the health care services. They will not be able to provide for every service as it would be unsustainable. Specialist services require maintained training and exposure to a number of patients with those issues. He said NHA was aware of the issues. They try to maintain local services in a community and make them available close to home, but not necessarily in the community.

Later in the meeting, it was also stated a majority of the prime times are booked during the day by Terrace residents. The safety of the roads early in the morning was questioned as was communication from the Terrace hospitals at those hours.

Mayor Joanne Monaghan asked if there were any Kitimat people on the committees which look at the services in the regions for NHA. Cooper replied they were made up from specialists from administration. Cooper said he will sit on one of these committees and another member of NHA administration would as well.

Councillor Mario Feldhoff reflected back on a report from NHA which was circulated that looked at beds and bed planning in extended care, assisted living and acute care. He said he was concerned about Smithers being well served. Cooper said the issues are being viewed and he could not report back without information.

Goffinet said Council met with NHA at UBCM and asked the same question. The answer they received back was they should have the numbers but they said they were still evaluating the need for beds vs. the budget on extended care beds in the North. The District would like to support this project but they need the numbers.

“I’m getting the sense that there is some major waffling going on and a change in priorities. We were one of the last, in the terms of members, to be brought up to date. Other communities have all leap frog-ed and we’re not getting any clear answers, it’s all very frustrating,” said Feldhoff.

Campbell asked to see NHA`s business plan. Cooper said there is a plan for funding equipment. This plan depends on the cost of replacing the equipment and there are two lists: one for major capital equipment and one for minor capital equipment. He said there was a review in place for the long term care beds, which is under review by Northern Health as to the needs of the region. Campbell asked how long it would take. Cooper could not answer but stated it was a concern on the table of the highest level. Campbell said she was concerned with the constant reviews and how the people at the highest level keep changing, putting this back to square one.

Monaghan said she has put together a housing task force on this topic. She was uncertain if this would be senior housing or assisted living. Jack Oviatt has given the community a parcel of land and they are doing a study as to what kind of housing will be needed. The review will be ready in January. Monaghan said there would be grant opportunities for funding and assistance from the Provincial and Federal Government. Monaghan said this is just beginning and will flesh out as things go on.

Cooper said the home care support service was upset by the comments made at the last meeting about them not existing as they do a fantastic job. Scott said there was concern in the community that there was not enough staff in home care support to look after the community. She said it was not the intent for the home care staff to feel picked on. The intent was for there to be more staff.

Cooper replied the program was difficult to manage. It has been changed in how it is delivered and with time saving measures. They have to be flexible to be able to respond to cases as they come up. Cooper also reminded the 'Adult Day Care' service would take pressure off of home support.

Goffinet pointed out the system fails people often. However, once the problems are brought to the attention of the hospital, they could be solved. Someone pointed out there were a lot of fears in the community concerning the conversion of the hospital to a band aid station.

“The hospital is not closing and there are no plans on anyone's agenda for the hospital to close or emergency services to close. When I talk about emergency services and acute services, I am also talking about the services required to support those services,” said Cooper. “Categorically, there is no intention on anybody's plan to close the hospital. It is not going to be a band aid station or anything else.”

One person threw a motion onto the floor to have the NHA representative demand the business plan for Kitimat. He pointed out NHA was given a lot of money which was spent in Prince George. Cooper said he would report back on any money he could get for Kitimat.

Cooper suggested the group also raise this through their channels and he would be able to discuss further funding as a good news item at a later date. He suggested inviting the retirees to a primary health care meeting. This motion was called and carried.

Other topics around the table included the safety of nurses in the ER with a request to increase nursing staff as a nurse can’t reach his or her beeper when they are in a headlock.