Northern Rockies acquire health advocate

FORT NELSON, B.C – The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality possibly found the missing ingredient to achievi…

FORT NELSON, B.C – The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality possibly found the missing ingredient to achieving equitable access to health care for its residents.

The NRRM announced Wednesday, Doug Blackie of Doug Blackie Consulting had been selected as a healthcare advocate. Council approved a Request for Proposals at a February 8th meeting in order to find candidates.

“[He will] provide strategic guidance informed through meetings and interviews with key stakeholders and by his extensive experience in rural healthcare,” say the NRRM’s release Wednesday.

For over a decade, the NRRM has tried to maintain health care for residents, but provincial and regional protocol changes have limited accessible services for the community.

“Mandates have shifted to regionalize services to larger centres, protocols of practice have become increasingly stringent, and filling vacancies has been significantly challenging as a result of shortages in trained health care professionals and the competitiveness in recruitment,” says the release.

For many years, accessing health services had come along with burdens, such as high costs, frequent long-distance travel, due to Fort Nelson’s isolated location.

“These are issues that are going to have to be addressed over time,” says Mayor Gary Foster.

“Over the course of many years, Council has taken every available opportunity to address the barriers in accessing health services at the political level, though we have not gained the amount of traction we would like”

In 2017, the Regional Municipality created a community health plan outlining six key issues on recruiting and retaining health care providers, says Foster. The identified issues include travel service, maternity care, cancer care, telehealth, mental health and substance abuse.

“Currently, we have all the physicians we need in Fort Nelson, and we have two dentists in Fort Nelson. That’s not an issue today, but it could very well be an issue tomorrow, doctors leave. I think this is a moving target, and it is a bigger picture thing. Down the road, we want to make sure that we have access to these health care workers when we need them,” said Mayor Foster to Energeticcity in February.

Since the initial introduction of the health plan, a steering committee was created to discuss health care issues in the region and ways to mitigate them. The committee consists of Northern Health, Fort Nelson General Hospital, emergency services, Fort Nelson First Nation and the Regional Municipality.

A local was also appointed to the Board of Northern health, which Foster says will bring representation for rural and remote communities.

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