Princeton-area First Nation bands ask government to provide money for locums

The Upper and Lower Similkameen Indian bands are urging the government to provide money for locums to keep Princeton's ER open 24/7.

The Upper and Lower Similkameen Indian bands are urging the government to provide money for locums to keep Princeton Hospital emergency department open 24 hours a day.

The bands asked the minister of health for money to help attract locums to Princeton, which currently has none.

Upper Similkameen Chief Charlotte Mitchell said a 24/7 emergency department at Princeton Hospital is vital because of the band’s involvement in the forestry sector.

“We recognize that you share industry and First Nations’ commitment to the safety and well being of the people of British Columbia, and that you understand in particular the needs of those who work in the forest products industry,” Mitchell said in a letter to Minister of Health Michael de Jong.

Princeton Hospital has been closed from midnight to 8 a.m. Monday to Thursday since May 1.

“This means that there is no professional medical support for our employees at times when Upper Similkameen Indian Band logging operation are functioning to our fullest capacity,” Mitchell said.

If a serious accident were to happen, the employee would have to be transported by ambulance to Penticton an hour and 20 minutes away, she said.

“Those 80 minutes could mean the difference between a full recovery on the one hand and serious disability, even death, on the other,” said Lower Similkameen Chief Robert Edward in another letter to the health minister.

“We understand attracting and retaining general practitioners to rural communities calls for longer term solutions, emergency services can’t wait.”

The $500,000, which could come from the Rural General Practitioner Locum Program, could help Princeton attract locums for a year while the bands work with the government to develop a long-term strategy, Edward said.

Jon Slater, Interior Health Authoroty senior medical director, told the Spotlight last month that the trick to providing complete emergency room coverage in Princeton is to attract locums and eventually a new doctor.

“The long-term (solution) is to bring physicians to town to establish practice… In the short-term we need to get people from out of town to help us out,” he said.

Fraser-Nicola MLA Harry Lali said doctors aren’t coming to Princeton because they can’t practice services they trained for, such as surgery and delivering babies.

“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,” said Lali at a legislative assembly in May.

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

But de Jong said funding doctors is not the problem, it’s finding them.

“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.