MLA Lali jumps in heated debate with health minister

The short-comings of Princeton's health care were up for debate between MLA Harry Lali and Minister of Health Michael de Jong.

Fraser-Nicola MLA Harry Lali.

Fraser-Nicola MLA Harry Lali.

The short-comings of Princeton’s health care were up for heated debate between Fraser-Nicola MLA Harry Lali and Minister of Health Michael de Jong at the legislative assembly on May 16.

“I’d like to ask the minister why the B.C. Liberals are abandoning the health care needs of rural communities like Merritt, Ashcroft, Cache Creek, Lytton [and] Princeton,” Lali asked de Jong at the meeting.

Lali said Princeton used to have five locums to help with emergency department coverage but currently has none, causing the ER close from midnight to 8 a.m. four times a week.

“I know the Liberals like to blame doctors, and say: ‘It’s not an issue of finances. It’s an issue of doctors not wanting to come to small towns,” he said.

Lali said Princeton’s health care problem is caused by lack of money, not the number of doctors available to work in B.C.

But de Jong said the solution to Princeton health care situation does not involve providing more money.

“The solution, apparently, does not involve the $200,000 in additional funding that was made available to retain additional ER coverage, the $200,000 that Princeton has decided to make available for additional locum coverage, electronic scheduling and, by the way, the rental of an apartment for $44,000 so that if a locum comes to Princeton, they’ve got a place to stay,” he said.

IHA has “tried as best it can – in an entirely non-partisan way – to address [recruitment] challenges that exist,” he said.

In addition, rural British Columbians have better access to doctors compared to the Canadian average, he added.

Lali recently told protesters at a rally that doctors aren’t coming to Princeton because they can’t practice what they learned in medical school, including surgery and delivering babies.

“In 2000 we had an operating room in Princeton, a 24-7 emergency room, a nurse to assess your emergency, an intake nurse for registration, a maternity ward, four doctors covering ER, full-time pharmacy, full-time health technicians — X-ray, blood work, etc.,” he said.

Princeton Hospital has since been reduced to having unreliable hours and frequent closures, as well as having its emergency ward, pharmacy and operating room taken away, he said.

De Jong said funding doctors is not the problem, it’s finding them, citing that Princeton’s three doctors all make over $390,000 a year.

“To suggest, somehow, that there is an issue around the funding of the primary caregiver in the guise of the doctor is simply inaccurate and untrue,” he said.

Princeton Hospital emergency department is closed from midnight to 8 a.m. Monday to Thursday, and has been on LLTO (life, limb, threatened organ) status this month, where only the most urgent cases have been seen.

The emergency department closures have sparked rallies in Princeton when IHA representatives held private meetings in town.

See Debates of the Legislative Assembly for a complete transcript of Lali and de Jong’s discussion.