BEYOND THE HEADLINES: The final countdown

A new year is a time to reflect on the 12 months that have just wrapped up, and to anticipate what’s just around the corner.

A new year is a time to reflect on the 12 months that have just wrapped up, and to anticipate what’s just around the corner.

Like many North Okanagan residents I am waiting to see if Health Minister Michael de Jong will fulfill his promise and make an announcement regarding more acute care beds at Vernon Jubilee Hospital.

“You have ensured in the near future that I will be coming back,” he told protesting health care workers and residents while at VJH in October.

He suggested that an announcement on completing the two shelled-in floors for beds could occur early in 2012.

“You have made it clear that there are capacity issues and we are working to try and address them,” he said.

While de Jong continues to try and find the cash needed for the beds, conditions at the hospital remain challenging for doctors, nurses and particularly patients.

Dr. Chris Cunningham, a member of medical staff, recently stated makeshift wards have been set up in vacant parts of the hospital to handle overcrowding.

“These are indecent and compromise care and safety and infection control is compromised,” he said.

“With the overcrowding and blocked beds we still see delays in elective surgeries. This also affects delays in joint replacements and cancer surgeries.”

Beyond placing pressure on medical professionals, the delays out of Victoria are negatively impacting the Interior Health Authority’s administrators on the ground in Vernon. They see the patients coming through the doors and the beds filling up but they can only juggle the limited resources made available to them.

The unfortunate part of all of this is the issue wouldn’t even be on the government’s radar if it wasn’t for the doctors, the B.C. Nurses Union, municipal leaders and residents like Peter Hill who launched a petition and organized rallies.

Recognition also goes to Eric Foster, the Vernon-Monashee MLA, who has championed the cause and challenged his Liberal colleagues to take action.

“I’m not letting this go to the back-burner,” said Foster recently.

“I’m going to remind them of how important this issue is to our area.”

Foster is tenacious and feisty and will no doubt keep lobbying, but it’s an uphill battle given that he is one of 48 Liberals in the caucus room. He’s trying to get a piece of the very limited budget just like everyone else sitting there.

It should also be mentioned that he’s only  been in the Legislature since May 2009 and while not quite new, Foster’s not well-seasoned and influential like some others.

Specifically, the senior politician of the region is George Abbott, the veteran Shuswap MLA who has held some weighty cabinet portfolios including health and currently, education.

But while he knows the inner workings of government and all of his constituents are served by VJH, he has been silent on overcrowding. Unlike Foster, Abbott hasn’t been seen twisting de Jong’s arm for funding or attending rallies.

We all remember back to July when Abbott said, “I am not in a position to be definitive on whether they (two shelled-in floors) should or should not be completed.”

He was also reluctant to make any direct comments in October although he was willing to take part in the ribbon cutting photo-op at the new tower.

We’re on the final countdown to 2012 and it’s time for de Jong and Abbott to get on board with Foster and local residents and support health care in the North Okanagan.

If not, the patient load will continue to climb.

—Richard Rolke is the senior reporter for The Morning Star.