This was originally going to be a column about how urgently we need a new hospital, and how we had to come together as a community, put aside the partisan politics and get the attention of the people who make decisions.
A personal medical emergency and the recent announcement by provincial finance minister Mike de Jong that finally the funding to replace Mills Memorial Hospital has been allotted changed my focus considerably.
Like many of my maturing friends, I recently had the occasion to need our system in the worst possible way.
The life-threatening illness of a loved one is something that focuses your attention like nothing else. While you sit helplessly by, waiting for doctors, test results and action plans, you want to fix, to move your case ahead and to make things happen.
You want to do something, anything other than sitting by and feeling useless. I sat pensively chewing my lip for five days with my wife in ER awaiting medical airlift to higher care facilities in Vancouver.
Out of the five nights, she was able to spend 1.2 nights in ICU, the rest were spent mainly behind the curtains of the ER trying to rest and recover surrounded by the noise, lights and traffic of a very busy emergency department.
Multiple times, she was told “the plane was on the way” only to be told that it had been diverted for a more urgent case elsewhere.
I can’t imagine the compassion and skill that it requires to deliver this message to a patient once, never mind multiple times.
Eventually, the plane came, the surgery took place and she is home and life is returning to a new normal. During this experience, a number of questions and observations came to mind.
Firstly, the front line people in the system deserve our respect and our gratitude. Without exception, the nurses, aides and physicians in Terrace, the paramedics in the air ambulance and staff in Vancouver were incredible.
They were kind, caring and compassionate and everything you would want and more. The Mills ER nurses especially, doing their jobs under difficult situations, with the occasional antagonistic patient and with limited physical space, were exceptional.
Secondly, I was told by a senior doctor that Mills Memorial once had three ICU rooms, with a historical standard of one nurse per bed.
When recent renovations occurred, we now have five ICU beds, with frequently two or even less nurses in attendance.
This needs to change well before the new facility is built. The stress caused on critical care patients and families by sleeping in the ER is unacceptable and inhumane.
Finally, during my time there, the number of people showing up at emergency with seemingly non-emergency conditions was alarming.
I’m not a doctor, but showing up at any time with a toothache (honestly?) or sore toe just adds to an already overloaded facility.
On a Friday night, there were beds in the halls and X-ray suites and at least 20 people waiting to get looked at.
It’s called ‘emergency’ for a reason and while most people seemed to be there for justifiable reasons, many were not.
Although the staff does an excellent job of triage, if we abuse the system for trivial matters, then the system will not be there for us when we really need it.
We don’t have ‘free’ health care; it’s paid for by all of us and for all of us and those who abuse it jeopardize it for everyone.
Most importantly of all, we must get the job of a new Mills finished properly.
During my recent visits, there were patients from Prince Rupert to Hazelton and from Dease Lake to Kitimat.
The Mills replacement needs to be a true regional trauma centre, and it must be designated, staffed and funded as such.
Proper operating theatres, specialists and a formal designation would also allow a medevac plane to be posted here at YXT.
Rather than being at the mercies of weather and workload, having the plane here gives us all a better chance at getting out quicker.
At de Jong’s announcement, made here in Terrace, there was a profound joy and feeling of accomplishment.
There are many people who have dedicated years to lobbying, ear bending and have invested time prodding, cajoling and emailing people who pull the levers of power.
Our mayor and council, First Nations councils, the Northern Health Authority, the Dr. R.E.M. Lee Hospital Foundation, Bill and Helene McRae, Eileen Kennedy and far too many other people to mention have got us to this point.
We must, as a community, put politics and differences aside and push this home.
We have to get past “who you have to vote for” and recognize that if we are divided, we will all lose.
We have proven we can be ‘Hockeyville’ by working together. Can we succeed the same way and become ‘Hospitalville’?
Terrace resident Steve Smyth is a past director of the Terrace-Kitimat Airport Society, which operates the Northwest Regional Airport, and a current board member of the Terrace and District Chamber of Commerce.