Valemount Clinic patient room

By: Korie Marshall

You can still get the medical help you need, even if the Robson Valley is temporarily short on doctors. That is the message from Keltie Carmichael, Health Services Administrator for the Robson Valley and Jonathon Dyck, spokesperson from Northern Health.

A notice posted in the Feb. 18th edition of the Little McBride Paper read “McBride Physician update – There will be no doctors in McBride for the week of Feb. 23-27, 2015. We will continue to post regular physician updates to keep the community informed.”

Last week, the Goat printed an editorial cartoon about the situation. Northern Health contacted us afterward, concerned that someone might not seek appropriate medical help should they need it, even though help is available.

Our editorial cartoon on Feb. 25th read “To who it may concern: There will be no doctors at the McBride Hospital this week. Please postpone all accidents and illnesses until next week when we hope we will be able to serve you. If you need immediate help, please refer to the BC Health Guide.”

The creator of the cartoon, Dave Marchant, said his wife had been to the doctor the week before, and heard there would be no doctors the following week. He said it seemed like no one was making a big deal about it, but he felt like it really was a big deal, especially with so little information available about what it would mean. He remembers the BC Health Guide was a booklet that used to be sent out to BC residents with information about what to do if you cut your finger, for example.

HealthLinkBC’s website says the English version of the BC HealthGuide Handbook is no longer available, but they are currently exploring opportunities to provide self-care and general health information in print. It says you can also call 811 or search the website for medically approved information.

Notice & Cartoon Confusion

Carmichael says the notice in the Little McBride Paper came from them, because she wanted to keep the community updated after the Goat did a story on the local doctor shortage in December. She says the Goat’s editorial cartoon caused a lot of grief, and she got questions from her staff and the public.

“We are working quite hard as a team between Valemount and McBride to keep things running and keep everyone safe,” said Carmichael. She says the cartoon looks like it may have come from Northern Health, which it didn’t, but that if someone was to take that seriously, “that could lead to quite serious implications if someone didn’t come in for assistance that we could have provided.”

Dyck says when there was a doctor shortage recently in Fort St. James, Northern Health put out regular news releases and partnered with local papers and radio, but says the situation there was different. The doctor shortage in Fort St. James resulted in some closures to the emergency room, and that is not the case in McBride. He says the emergency room is still open, with nurses on hand who will contact the doctor on call, whether that be in Valemount or McBride.

“If people think they need medical assistance, they should be calling 911,” says Carmichael. “Someone jumping into a vehicle to drive themselves in an emergency is not conducive to good health care.”

Carmichael says communication from ambulance attendants helps get nursing staff prepared for what is coming in the door. Also, for safety and security of staff at the hospital, the doors are locked between 8pm and 6am every day, so the primary method of access is by ambulance, though Dyck points out that staff will respond if someone in an emergency rings the bell at the hospital. But after hours at the Valemount Clinic (4:30 Monday to Friday and 6:00 on Saturday and Sunday), there is no one on site unless an ambulance calls them in, so you have to call 911. Carmichael says if you are not sure your situation is an emergency, you can call 811, and the nurses on the line will advise you to call 911 if it is warranted.

Protocol Same as Before

Carmichael says the emergency protocol has not changed – BC Ambulance brings the patient to the hospital and the nurses on site do a head to toe assessment and contact the on-call physician.

“Not having a physician can seem daunting, but our staff do work really hard to make sure people get the care they need,” says Dyck. “There is a whole medical team.”

Northern Health says the biggest impact of not having regular physician coverage is that it’s a little more difficult to get appointments. It can also mean more of a time commitment from the doctors to provide that coverage. Dyck says one of the strengths of the people in the Robson Valley is their commitment to helping the community and the health team works really hard.

The usual complement is two doctors in McBride and three in Valemount, says Carmichael. Valemount doctors are starting their annual vacation time, so Valemount is down to two doctors at the moment, and those two are helping to cover McBride. McBride physician Dr. Michael Jackson is retiring at the end of March. He has been working primarily by himself since August when the second doctor in McBride left. Carmichael says Northern Health has a contract with a part time locum until September to provide some coverage.

Dyck says Northern Health continues to try to recruit for the vacant positions, but says it does take time to find the right people. He says Northern Health will work to make sure the community is updated on a more regular basis. “That is something that we need to do, and it is something that we will continue to work on.”