Last night we began a new campaign initiative: Policy Listening Sessions. The idea for these evenings was rooted in our desire to hear directly from experts in their given fields and to ensure that the policy solutions that we are putting forward are informed by the best information available. We want to craft policy to meet the specific needs of our community. By all accounts, last night was a resounding success!
We put on a pot of coffee at the campaign office and those that we had reached out to began to filter through the door. Our discussion topic last night was Access to Healthcare, and we had a good representation from General Practitioners (GP’s), Emergency Room Doctors, Paramedics, Public Health Officials, Palliative Care Workers, and Surgeons. My role in all of this was to provide a little bit of context as to the role that I believe that the City should be playing on this topic, and then to open the floor up to ideas.
We heard about the growing number of people in Chilliwack who are classified as “unattached” meaning those who do not have a family doctor of their own. We heard about the Provincial initiative GP For Me, and some of the successes and challenges that it faced in accomplishing the goal of attaching all BC residents to a doctor. Ultimately this program ran out of funding, and the percentage of unattached patients in Chilliwack has gone from close to 11% in 2013, to now an estimated 30%, however accurate numbers are not available because funding has not been provided to study this shortfall.
For me this raised the question of what ultimately is the result of someone not having a family doctor? Does this simply mean that many people are healthy and don’t feel the need to find a family doctor? Or is the situation more dire than that? The answer from all voices at the table is that this baseline service, or lack there of, sends ripple effects through all aspects of the medical system. When people don’t have access to a GP, and they feel they need to see a doctor, they tend to go to a walk in clinic, or head directly to the hospital and try to get in to see someone through the emergency room. This has exacerbated the already backlogged emergency room wait times, and put most walk in clinics at full capacity by 11:00 in the morning. What other option is out there for those still needing medical attention? They are phoning 911 and getting BC Ambulance to drive them to the ER. The current situation isn’t looking like it is getting any better, and this is not just a problem for the Provincial Government to solve, it is one that the City needs to take a leadership role in helping to address.
Chilliwack is also facing a critical shortage of nursing staff and anesthesiologists and the primary barrier is how to attract these people to live in our community. This is not a problem that is only facing the medical profession, we are hearing it from many professional sectors that Chilliwack needs to do a better job of branding its self and selling all of the great things that living here has to offer, if we hope to attract outside professionals to locate here. A few months ago I had a conversation with Patti Heinzman, the Mayor of Squamish, at a conference, and she indicated that they had had a similar issue in her community. However today they have very few shortages in any professional sectors, and she attributes this to the positive, and proactive branding, marketing and tourism strategy that aimed to showcase the wonders of the Squamish life. Patti indicated that the goal of the strategy was to attract visitors and to bolster their fledgling tourism economy nearly a decade ago, and what resulted was a success… people came, and more importantly, they stayed. She finished off by saying, that Chilliwack has many of the same outdoor and lifestyle opportunities that Squamish does, and we have the benefit of being a bigger city, we simply need to tell people about it.
The evening held many other great conversations that stretched on for nearly two hours. We are endeavoring to distil down some of the core takeaways and look at opportunities and strategies that Chilliwack could use to help solve some of the issues with access to healthcare in our community.
We are looking forward to Policy Listening Session Episode # 2.