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Port Hardy pleads for help as serious doctor shortfall looms

Doctor warns resignations will cut staffing in half, mayor writes letter to Dix
Port Hardy Hospital. (Island Health photo)

Dr. Alex Nataros is warning the community of Port Hardy that two of their four doctors will be leaving the North Island at the end of June, and the third doctor will stop working in the hospital’s emergency department by March if there’s no help from Island Health.

“[The third doctor] does not feel it is safe with the lack of nursing coverage/locum doctors,” said Nataros, when asked to comment on why the doctor would be stopping emergency department services. “He is clear to me he hopes Island Health will step up to provide funding to fix this.”

Nataros then spoke out about Premier David Eby, stating that during his leadership race and since, he talked a lot about his wife “doing her medical training here in the North Island, and it’s surprising to me that during our crisis he is silent on the issue of the urgent need for physician assistants in the North Island.”

“We have a large Indigenous population here in the North Island, and the majority of the illnesses we see are from the Indigenous population because of historical trauma, disparities, and health and social care,” Nataros added.

“Right now we have a physician here in the North Island in myself calling for increased medical support — I’m saying I will pay for a physician assistant out of my own pocket to provide care in large part to our Indigenous population — and we have a premier and health care minister that are denying me that right, which to my understanding amounts to systemic racism.”

Meanwhile, Port Hardy mayor Pat Corbett-Labatt and her council have penned a letter to Health Minister Adrian Dix asking for the authorization to hire physician assistants.

“The extended emergency room closures has had and continues to have a significant negative impact on Port Hardy residents, our health-care professionals and the broader north Vancouver Island population,” Corbett-Labatt wrote.

According to Corbett-Labatt’s letter, the emergency room closures have been happening on an all too frequent basis (as much as 25 per cent) and the ability to attract and retain health-care professionals “remains difficult and acts as an ongoing barrier to stable health-care services in the community.”

After consultations with Nataros and Lisa Stewart, director of the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants, at a Jan. 10 committee of the whole meeting, where they explained how physician assistants would benefit the North Island, Port Hardy council ultimately agreed that “physicians, supported by physician assistants, would be able to offer expanded services to community members who have been largely left under served and unable to readily access emergency health-care services amidst the ongoing emergency room closures.”

“In view of the foregoing, the council of the District of Port Hardy confirms that it strongly supports CAPA’s request to the Province of British Columbia for the authorization to undertake a trial project employing physician assistants in Port Hardy beginning June 1, 2023.”

ALSO READ: Physician assistants improve health-care services in provinces that need them


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