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The forum is part of the annual Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) convention being held in Whistler, which also includes Health Minister Terry Lake and other health authority representatives.

“We know there are challenges that need to be addressed in rural communities and part of our current strategic direction makes it very clear that we need a broad strategy for rural care that meets the needs of all British Columbians,” Minister Lake said in a written statement.

Lake adds, “By consulting with mayors and health professionals, First Nations and other stakeholders, we will be able to develop a strategy that meets the long-term future needs of those outside of urban centres.”

A key component of finalizing what the province calls the “Rural Health Strategy” is ensuring they have a framework to inform future planning decisions, an accomplishment achieved by looking a both the short and long term needs of communities while also taking a fresh look at existing supports; i.e. what’s working, what needs to be changed, and what else may be required.

“The Rural Health Strategy will have a clear focus, including measurable outcomes,” a statement from the Ministry of Health reads.

Residents from rural communities, including here in Fort St. John, have increasingly voiced their concern over access to physicians, technicians and other heath professionals, according to the ministry.

“Through discussions with community leaders, we are gaining a solid understanding of the priorities in our communities,” Northern Health CEO and president, Cathy Ulrich said in the same statement. “It is important to us to be a key partner in developing the vision and strategy for rural health services.”

According to the ministry, this particular challenge is not unique to the rural communities of B.C, but “felt across the country and in communities all around the globe.”

The ministry goes on to say the province in working towards building on “significant investments already made to address the challenges rural communities face.”

As an example, the ministry points to an approximate investment of $100 million a year on incentives to attract physicians who will stay in rural parts of B.C. They also boast about there 14-year investment of more than $200 million on strategies to promote education, recruitment and retention of nurses in rural communities.

“The province has invested significantly in bringing more nurse practitioners into rural and remotes communities,” the statement reads. “The Ministry of Health, in partnership with Northern Health, recently announced funding for three new nurse practitioners in their Fort St. John clinic.”

The ministry concludes by stating the next step in finalizing the Rural Heath Strategy includes wrapping up a series of planned consultations with key stakeholders, including health professional and UBCM members.

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