Letter to editor: Why not spend the billions for Site C on healthcare in remote areas instead?

Interior Health Authority has spent a year trying to find a second doctor to take up practice at our local hospital serving the community of Silverton, B.C., and failed — no takers, so emergency facilities will be closed on weekends and holidays and every night. This means getting an ambulance, getting through on snowbound roads and to Nakusp, or to Nelson for certain important conditions such as stroke in time to save the life of an endangered person, may not be possible.

Consider: the medical authorities state that time is of the essence when dealing with the heart. Research shows that people who get to the emergency within 30 minutes of having a heart attack have a far better chance of survival than those who seek treatment hours later.

Just recognizing a heart attack and getting the ambulance to one’s door may take far longer than IHA imagines. For instance, I live on Red Mountain Road in Silverton, the road to which is steep and often not plowed until well after Highway 6 is plowed.  My place is sometimes plowed a day later than the main Red Mountain Road, so an ambulance could not get through or would take far longer than the medical protocols require.

So, I’m a representative in my old age, of those who are substantially endangered by the lack of access to medical care.

Why, one asks, has no doctor wanted the posting? Some say it isn’t a matter of money, it’s their desire for pleasant accommodation and lifestyle. Still, the beach of New Denver, its hometown atmosphere and all its other inviting characteristics have not attracted a doctor after a year’s search. 

I understand my area would actually be better served if there were two extra doctors. This would sweeten the issue of working hours by dividing the demand on each, but emergency services 24/7 shouldn’t depend on it if getting one doctor will get my community through. 

Something of crucial importance may be missing. That is the government should cover all the requirements made of such prospects with a sufficient income. What I propose is an expanded base income for what these doctors may see as inadequate for the amount of effort and hours they have to put in. But where would the money for this come from?

Consider this: the cost of Site C dam is now proposed to cost $10 billion to complete it, according to the BC Utilities Commission. This works out to 3.4 million dollars per job over the next six years for a proposed completion in 2024. Imagine if that sum were differently used. Suppose the sum of $100,000 per year were offered as a base salary to doctors in remote areas? That 3.4 million per job over a six year period equates to $100,000 per year being paid to a prospective doctor for 34 years or 17 years for two doctors. Such a sum might well draw new doctors who are saddled with debt from their education and might also draw doctors from other provinces where such a guaranteed base earnings is not available. 

The fact is, our reduction of health care services in BC’s rural areas lack the funds being expended on Site C, yet the NDP’s election campaign decried the Site C dam as a prodigious waste of taxpayer funds. They said, if elected, they would cancel it, and then reversed their position on specious or refutable premises when they gained office. They are aware, as their election platform showed, that there’s no demonstrable market for the power in 2024; huge environmental damage is being done, and aboriginal rights have been trampled, which issue is now subject to legal proceedings that will cost the taxpayers tons of money. $10 billion probably doesn’t begin to account for the true costs of going ahead with the project. 

Contrast this to the long-term strangulation of funds for health and social services in BC. Imagine if that sum were differently used. Having a well-equipped emergency room to save lives in isolated communities, and then shutting it down even part time rather than pay enough to attract the doctors to staff it is simply a poor standard of health care due to industrial mega-projects sucking huge amounts of funds from the taxpayers.

The outcry has been such that the IHA has withdrawn its edict until spring, pending further discussion.  One of these considerations will be the necessity to renovate the proposed second doctors’ quarters. This again reverts to the issue of money, and thus its correlative — the tons of taxpayer funds that are going to be thrown down the chute of the Site C dam.

Closing emergency rooms is a declaration that the NDP doesn’t intend to invest the money to make them available and what happens to us and other rural communities similarly situated is of little evident concern to government.

What’s worse, we are faced with yet another contradiction beyond the NDP’s reversal of their election platform promising to end Site C. In his recent Throne Speech the Premier promised that the government would be “revitalizing our healthcare system to reduce wait times in emergency rooms.” This is stated while his Health Ministry is actually and dangerously lengthening times for endangered persons to gain emergency help. Is it that the Premier doesn’t know what is being done under his leadership or is this once again political doubletalk?

Let us not go hat in hand to beg the NDP government for the money. Let’s instead continue to communicate our outrage at its preposterous mispriorities and its willingness to potentially endanger the health and even the lives of every man, woman and child in this valley, simply because they no longer want, for political reasons, to fulfill their election promises to scuttle Site C. Let us carry this shocking mispriority into every forum, present it to media, and circulate it through social media. 

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