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Departing physicians, ER closures put Prince Rupert on red alert

Mayor says he will speak to minister of health to underscore criticality of healthcare shortage
The emergency room at the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital was closed overnight on March 9 due to a physician shortage. Along with the emergency room closure, Prince Rupert residents are worried about healthcare staffing shortages, with an unconfirmed number of physicians leaving the area or retiring. (Seth Forward/The Northern View)

A recent emergency room closure and rumours of as many as eight physicians relocating or retiring has created serious concern for the Prince Rupert community.

Northern Health has confirmed that an unspecified number of physicians will either leave Prince Rupert or retire in the near future, furthering fears in a community that is already short of doctors.

However, the health authority also confirmed there will be three new physicians coming to the city before the end of 2024.

“Northern Health is currently aware of or anticipating both primary care provider departures and arrivals in the coming months, and we continue to recruit to current vacancies. We cannot comment on the specific plans of independent primary care providers in the community, but physicians do have an obligation to notify their patients directly if they are closing, moving or retiring from their practice,” said Eryn Collins, Northern Health regional director of media relations.

“We recognize the importance of access to primary care in communities across the region, and we’re continually working to recruit physicians to the community, in a challenging and competitive recruitment environment. We are pleased to note that we are expecting at least three new physician arrivals in Prince Rupert in 2024, and recruitment efforts are ongoing.”

A March 11 city council meeting was the third straight session in which healthcare was a central theme, with increasing urgency due to recent events.

Mayor Herb Pond said he will be in contact with provincial Health Minister Adrian Dix over the growing healthcare concerns in the community.

“I will convey to him personally that every stop has to be pulled out,” he said.

Pond likened the healthcare professional shortage to the water pipes crisis, saying it would be futile to upgrade the water pipes without also addressing the city’s healthcare needs — particularly as it hosts the nation’s third-largest port.

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice also raised these healthcare challenges at the B.C. Legislative Assembly on March 11. Rice said Canada’s aging population and the global shortage of healthcare workers has put immense pressure on B.C.’s healthcare system.

“It is no secret that we are currently facing a health human resources crisis,” she said.

Rice said she understood the growing concern Prince Rupert residents have due to physician departures and the March 9 ER closure. But she pointed to the province’s strategies to ameliorate B.C.’s dire healthcare situation — such as extra incentives for healthcare staff, the opening of a new medical school in Surrey and a streamlined process for certifying internationally trained nurses and doctors.

“Here in Prince Rupert I understand people are rightfully concerned when they hear their family physician is leaving. However, I also want to note that more doctors are coming,” Rice said.

Coun. Nick Adey acknowledged that the Ministry of Health and Northern Health are working on the North’s staffing struggles, but said the municipality needs to offer as much support as it possibly can.

“We’re not inventing a brand new wheel but what we are suggesting is that there may be a way to lend some weight to it by involving other stakeholders,” Adey said.

A shortage of healthcare workers will severely impact all facets of Prince Rupert life, according to Pond, who called the efforts to recruit and retain “mission critical” for the city, local First Nations and local industry.

Prince Rupert’s remote location makes its healthcare problems more urgent than other communities, according to Coun. Barry Cunningham. The next nearest hospital is in Terrace, a nearly two-hour drive away on an unpredictable highway.

“What is unique to Prince Rupert is our isolation to another hospital. If our ER is closed… if you have a heart attack or a serious industrial accident, you’re two hours away from the next ER,” Cunningham said.

Emergency room closures have been a growing concern in numerous communities across the Northern Health region.

READ MORE: Feds release $77 million to replace Prince Rupert’s ancient water pipes

About the Author: Seth Forward, Local Journalism Initiative

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