Clark must get involved

Beyond the headlines: Richard Rolke

Christy Clark didn’t waste any time in insisting that her style of government would be different.

Selected as Liberal leader in February, the then-premier designate called for a new relationship with British Columbians.

“I want you to be my partners in change in Victoria, I want you to be my partners in bringing open government, you can count on me to listen to, you can count  on me to  engage you and you can count on me to ensure our government really does include you,” she said.

“I have specific ideas on how to do these things, but I need to hear from you. More than anything our government will be tuned into families  like never before.”

That was then and this is now, and one has to wonder if Clark will listen to the 6,033 people who signed a petition demanding the two top floors at Vernon Jubilee Hospital be completed as a way of alleviating chronic overcrowding.

Beyond the petition, there has been rallies in Vernon and Falkland, and countless letters to the editor have focused on the ongoing situation. Purple ribbons are pinned to shirts, jackets and hats.

Clark has chanted the mantra of “Families First,” but that contrasts with the experiences of Darrel Stinson, a former MP who has met many patients since he was diagnosed with cancer in 2005.

“Where I was trying to walk, I bumped into their beds (in the halls),” he told the Labour Day rally at VJH.

“The embarrassment they felt as they covered up. One man said to me, ‘Try and use a bed pan when someone bumps into your bed.’”

A thin curtain separates your bed from those passing by in the hall, meaning there is no privacy while visiting with family or when the doctor is updating you on your health.

Beyond the hospital, many residents struggle in pain and wait for their name to rise to the top of the surgical waitlist. Over-crowding often means there isn’t a bed for them once surgery is completed so the procedure is cancelled.

Now Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster insists VJH is a priority for Clark.

“I met with the premier myself Friday for 45 minutes and 40 minutes of that discussion were about the hospital,” said Foster as he accepted the petition from organizers Monday.

That’s good news and it particularly indicates that Foster understands the seriousness of the situation and is lobbying on behalf of his constituents.

But there is only so much Foster, as a backbench MLA, can do. The final decision will be made by those who control the cash, including the health minister, the finance minister and the premier (also at the table is Education Minister George Abbott but the Shuswap MLA has yet to acknowledge more acute care beds are needed).

Meeting with Foster for 45 minutes will mean absolutely nothing if Clark doesn’t take action and conditions at the hospital continue to worsen.

As was mentioned earlier, Clark told British Columbians in February that, “you can count on me to listen, you can count on me to engage you and  you can count on me to ensure our government really does include you.”

If that is the case, it is time for Clark to visit Vernon and meet one-on-one with hospital administrators, doctors and nurses. But most importantly, she needs to talk directly to those people who have surgery cancelled or have been forced into a hall because there aren’t enough beds.

That would go a long ways towards putting families first.

– Richard Rolke is the senior reporter at The Morning Star in Vernon. He writes a weekly column going beyond the headlines.