Veteran MLA George Abbott stirred a sleeping giant when he recently stated that he hadn’t heard much from his Shuswap constituents about overcrowding at Vernon Jubilee Hospital.
Since then, letters to the editor have come in from residents of Armstrong, Enderby and Salmon Arm. And of course there was the recent public rally in Falkland that demanded the two shelled-in floors at VJH be completed for acute care beds and that appropriate staffing levels also be part of the annual budget.
It would be easy to dismiss the rally because only 150 people showed up, but that’s a good chunk of Falkland’s population that took time out of their busy lives to speak their mind on a Wednesday night.
“It should be fairly clear that people on this end of his constituency are 100 per cent behind health care workers and our hospital,” Kelli Rose, a rally organizer, said of Abbott.
All the people of Falkland are asking is that their elected representative listen and take action.
“We need to put pressure on Abbott,” said Rene Talbot, Falkland’s director to the Columbia-Shuswap Regional District.
“So far, Mr. Abbott is saying he’s not in support of it (two floors).”
And one has to wonder why Abbott hasn’t followed the lead of Eric Foster, Vernon-Monashee MLA, who has lobbied the health minister for completion of the floors and even participated in a public rally in Vernon July 1.
Now it may purely be speculation on my part, but perhaps Abbott considers VJH to be outside of his mandate because it is physically located in another constituency. But for the people of Armstrong, Enderby, Falkland and Spallumcheen, that is the hospital that serves their direct needs. And for his constituents who live in Sicamous and Salmon Arm, they turn to VJH for more specialized procedures that aren’t necessarily available at Shuswap Lake General Hospital.
It should also be pointed out that all residents in his constituency, like those in Vernon-Monashee, have a financial stake in VJH.
Through the North Okanagan-Columbia-Shuswap Regional Hospital District, all property owners contributed 40 per cent of the capital costs for five floors of the patient care tower, and they forked out 100 per cent just to ensure the two-shelled in floors are available for future use.
His constituents are tied to the hip at VJH, but Abbott continues to stand on the sidelines.
Now this next part is purely speculative but we should remember that George Abbott was B.C.’s health minister for many years.
It was during his tenure that the green light was given to the $180 million tower at VJH and for that, all residents should be extremely appreciative. The tower, with its expanded space and state-of-the-art technology, will significantly improve health care in the region.
But it was also during Abbott’s time at the helm that overcrowding at VJH continued to grow, forcing patients into the halls and surgeries to be cancelled. Abbott is right when he says the situation is partly a result of a lack of residential care beds in the community for seniors, but the Liberals have been in power since 2001, so why hasn’t there been a more aggressive campaign to deal with the problem?
By joining calls for the two floors at VJH, is Abbott concerned he will have to acknowledge the shortcomings within his ministry at the time?
In the end, the past is the past, and Abbott’s constituents are demanding action now.
If Abbott is truly interested in representing their interests, he will become a vocal advocate for meeting VJH’s full potential.
Perhaps we will even see him at the rally set for the hospital Labour Day.
—Richard Rolke is the senior reporter for The Morning Star