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Prince Rupert residents fear the worst as doctors leave community

Couple cconsidering leaving city after 40 years due to growing health care concerns
Dr. Francois Erasmus will be leaving the 2nd Ave Medical Clinic on June 1, one of an unconfirmed number of physicians leaving the Prince Rupert area in the coming months. Many residents are concerned that the departing physicians will increase the amount of emergency room closures at the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital. There have already been four emergency room closures since March 8. (Seth Forward/The Northern View)

Rosa Robichaud has had a family physician in Prince Rupert since 1980, when she moved to the community.

She is now concerned that she and her husband— who both have serious health conditions — will have to leave the North Coast for an urban area to have faster and better access to healthcare after her family physician, Dr. Francois Erasmus, notified the pair he would be leaving the area on June 1.

“We don’t want to leave the community, but if we don’t have doctors, I don’t see that we have a choice, especially with my husband,” said the 61-year-old Robichaud.

Rumours of up to eight physicians leaving Prince Rupert have been met with grave concern from the remote community, with Mayor Herb Pond calling the recruitment of new physicians in the city “mission critical.”

The emergency room at the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital has been closed four times since March 8 due to physician shortages, while the nearest hospital in Terrace is almost two hours away along Highway 16, a stretch that can be particularly perilous in winter months.

Northern Health said there will be three new physicians in Prince Rupert by the end of 2024, while promising that they are “continually working to recruit physicians to the community, in a challenging and competitive recruitment environment.”

Robichaud’s main worry is closures to the city’s emergency room and what would happen if her 64-year-old husband were to have another health emergency.

“I know that we’re not unique with our emergency room closing and it hasn’t had to happen here very often. But if this is what’s going to happen going forward, it’s a real concern for a lot of people in this community,” she said.

“I spend a lot of time at our local hospital. We’ve got fantastic staff and compassionate nurses and doctors, but you can see they’re burning out.”

On March 14, Dan D’Eon received a letter in his mailbox advising him his family doctor — also Dr. Erasmus — would be moving away from Prince Rupert on June 1, with no replacement.

After having a heart attack two years ago, D’Eon is worried that the departure of his physicians and others will result in more emergency room closures.

When his heart attack occurred earlier, doctors prepped D’Eon before he was flown to Vancouver by medevac, where he was operated on. Now he’s concerned that if he had another heart attack, he would not make it.

“If the ER is closed down when you have a heart attack, the closest you can go to is Terrace and if they have to fly you to Terrace and if the weather is bad, you can’t get out,” D’Eon said.

Both D’Eon and Robichaud have had their family doctor move on in the past, but have never been left without a replacement physician.

D’Eon said he has a specialist for his heart problems — but worries more doctors will continue to leave the area due to burnout.

“They’re saying they may have three replacement doctors. Well, if we’re losing eight and they’ve got three, that means we’re still down five doctors,” D’Eon said.

“And by the sounds of it, the doctors are already getting worn out from all the shifts that they’re having to do.”

Having a doctor that knew D’Eon’s medical history was important to the longtime Prince Rupert resident.

“I had a few medical issues and it was nice to be able to go talk to a doctor that actually knew me,” D’Eon said.

Robichaud has a specialist “a phone call away” in Vancouver for her health issues, but her husband has not been able to find one for over a year since he had a serious health emergency that forced him to travel to Vancouver for treatment.

The Prince Rupert resident said she is unclear on how to access refills for her husband’s medication, and worries she may have to go to the emergency room just to refill her husband’s prescription.

A College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia registry link shows 31 registered physicians currently practising in Prince Rupert.

Editor’s note: The Northern View has not been able to confirm the number of doctors who are leaving.

READ MORE: Physicians departing and ER closures put Prince Rupert on red alert

About the Author: Seth Forward, Local Journalism Initiative

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