Is living in Castlegar hazardous for your health?

Kyra Hoggan
By Kyra Hoggan
October 16th, 2010

 I’m going to ask you to imagine something for me: you’re at the Castlegar Golf Club with your (husband, father, best friend) and he has a heart attack. You know it’s a heart attack because it’s his second one.

The ambulance comes, and you’re shocked when they turn onto the highway toward Castlegar instead of Trail, since Trail is only about 10 minutes farther away, and it’s where your loved one needs to be for treatment.


You learned during his last heart attack that Castlegar isn’t equipped to treat him, so you tell the paramedics to go to Trail, where he’ll ultimately have to be transferred anyway. You’re aware of the seconds ticking away on your watch, seconds that may mean the difference, for your loved one, between full recovery and permanent damage.


The paramedics say no, we can’t take him to Trail …protocol says we have to take him to the nearest emergency, and that’s Castlegar … we have no choice.


You’re horrified. You don’t have to be a doctor to know there’s sometimes a narrow window of opportunity to a) save someone’s life and/or b) halt or reverse otherwise permanent injury.


Going to Castlegar means a potentially-hours-long delay while your loved one is assessed and the Trail acute care team is contacted to transport him to the hospital he’s needed to be at all along. Your loved one may not have that kind of time.


It doesn’t have to be a heart attack, either – it can be your wife experiencing pain in her eighth month of pregnancy, and you know Castlegar has lost its ultrasound machine, but the paramedics have to take her there anyway. How much would those lost hours mean to you if you also lost the baby? Would “protocol” matter much to you then?


A reader shared her personal story with me, one very much like the first scenario I spelled out here, and I didn’t believe her. I knew she was telling the truth, of course – I just thought she had to be misunderstanding something, or the paramedics had miscommunicated with her.


I was shocked when I asked Chris Harbord, manager of communications and media for BC Ambulance Service, and he said, “BCAS transports patients to the closest open receiving hospital. Physicians at the hospital then determine whether a patient should be transferred elsewhere and if so, which facility they should be transferred to.”


So I started asking around and talking to Castlegar residents, many of whom said they hope, if they ever keel over, that it happens during a shopping expedition to Trail so they can get the immediate care they need instead of being penalized with hours-long waits, possibly risking permanent injury or death, for the unspeakable crime of living in Castlegar.


And here’s the heartbreaking part – many did not want me to write this column because they were afraid it would give Interior Health (IH) the excuse it needs to shut down the Castlegar emergency room altogether.


How sad that IH has let the situation deteriorate so far – that residents here are this untrusting and fearful of a government body that is supposed to work for us.


We need our ER – closing it down is hardly a solution, but no one I talked to thinks IH would care about that for a heartbeat (and I spoke to literally dozens of people). The obvious solution is to a) allow our well-trained, intelligent paramedics to do their jobs properly and take patients where they need to be in the first place and b) stop whittling away Castlegar’s diagnostic and treatment capacities to the point that our ER is little more than a high-end medical clinic.


The ultrasound is but one of a long laundry list of similar IH decisions that further incapacitate the dilligent doctors, nurses and support staff trying to serve the health-care needs of the Castlegar district.


I find IH’s position on the ultrasound machine illogical – with two roughly equal populations in two of the communities they serve, it just makes sense to spread out the resources such that one has at least some ultrasound capacity. Putting all three ultrasound machines in one facility just doesn’t make sense – the math doesn’t add up unless there’s an ulterior motive they’re not sharing with us – in fact, Castlegar’s ultrasound machine should be operational five to seven days a week, not just two.


But to compound that by condemning urgent-care patients from Castlegar to treatment at a facility from which IH is knowingly, intentionally, withdrawing basic diagnostic equipment …it’s unconscionable.


One of their own ER docs stood up in a public town hall meeting at the Complex two days ago and said they could really use the support of ultrasound capabilities in the Castlegar ER ….but IH doesn’t care.


Since making their decision to remove the ultrasound (without even a token effort at consultation with Castlegar patients or service providers), IH has done nothing but defend what seems, to me, to be an indefensible stance. All arguments against the move have fallen on deaf ears.


And that’s not factoring in the disincentive for local donations and fund-raising they’re creating – how many Castlegar residents are going to be willing to donate money for a new ultrasound machine for the local ER, when the last time they did so, IH took the machine away and gave it to Trail, without a word to us first?


They’re costing themselves, not just good will, but cold, hard cash, too.


I just don’t get it.


Two IH reps have repeatedly told me they’re trying to serve the entire region with these changes, an argument that would only hold water if Castlegar wasn’t a part of the region to which they’re referring.


Maybe you, readers, can enlighten me.


What’s the political upside for them? Are they evaluated solely on the basis of their primary hospital? Do they get more money from Trail taxpayers? What on earth could possibly make it seem okay to them to refuse Castlegar residents even a portion of the basic equipment available for the region …then refuse to take those same residents, during health crises, to any other facility but the one they themselves have rendered inadequate?


Maybe you, readers, can tell me the truth. All I’ve been able to determine so far is that IH won’t.

Categories: Op/Ed


11°C Clear Sky

Other News Stories