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Health care advocacy group warn Nanaimo hospital unprepared for population growth

New Fair Care Alliance formed to intensify calls for patient tower and cath lab
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Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital is already over capacity and can’t handle the anticipated population growth in the coming decades, warns a new advocacy group.

Donna Hais, community liaison for NRGH’s medical staff, presented to Nanaimo city council on Monday, April 8, speaking about the new Fair Care Alliance group.

“When you watch the news and you see photos of patients in beds in hallways, in storage closets … that’s us. Go to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital any day of the week and that’s what’s happening,” Hais told councillors.

“If we’re the fifth-fastest growing centre in Canada, can you imagine what that means for our population? That’s not a 40-per cent increase here, that’s more like a 50- to 55-per cent increase in population to central and north Vancouver Island. We are in no way prepared for that.”

The Fair Care Alliance is a new community advocacy group for health care, advocating on issues for residents north of the Malahat.

Hais’s presentation served as the introduction to a recently developed campaign, which involves an online petition to the province, demanding a new patient tower and a commitment for a cardiac catheterization lab.

“The conversation on getting a tower starting today is still 10 years before we’d see it,” Hais told council. “But a cath lab, we know, and we know this very specifically by [an] announcement we’ve seen in Surrey – we can have this in 18 to 24 months.”

In question period at the B.C. legislature on Thursday, April 11, Health Minister Adrian Dix wouldn’t give a commitment to funding either a catheterization lab or patient tower for Nanaimo, following a question from independent Parksville-Qualicum MLA Adam Walker.

“Why does the minister of health continue to refuse to listen to Island Health, and when will the NDP commit to funding the desperately needed patient tower at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital?” Walker asked.

“We are engaging, and the member knows this, in unprecedented investments in Nanaimo,” Dix responded, adding that the province has delivered “hundreds of new long-term care beds” and are in the process of funding a cancer centre. “We are going to continue to invest in Nanaimo and support Nanaimo patients.”

Walker then asked about a catheterization lab, but didn’t get a commitment from Dix on when, or if, the province will fund it.

While the news of a cancer centre, first announced in 2023, was applauded by Hais in her presentation to council, she said it’s not enough to solve the dire cancer care situation for northern and central Island residents.

READ MORE: Stakeholders make plea to B.C. government for cardiac cath lab in Nanaimo

She drew attention to the fact that there are no oncologists at the Nanaimo hospital compared to 40 oncologists in Victoria. For comparison, in 2023 there were 3,360 new cancer diagnoses in the central and north compared to 3,215 in the south. Fifty-three per cent of the Island’s cancer cases occur north of Malahat. Nanaimo currently has four general practitioners in oncology.

“We have the largest population – I told you we’re 460,000 people – in Canada without access to a cath lab,” Hais said. “We live in this area, this beautiful part of the world, in Canada, but we live below the standard of care when it comes to cardiac care.”

Coun. Ian Thorpe, who is chairperson of the Nanaimo Regional Hospital District, thanked Hais and reiterated the hospital district’s commitment to funding their 40 per cent portion of the build.

“We need public advocacy on this. We need the community to have its voice heard so the government, whichever party is in power, hears Nanaimo needs and deserves better health care in our region north of the Malahat,” he said. “It is absolutely scary, and unfortunately most people don’t have that realization until an incident happens.”

Coun. Janice Perrino added that “no-one needs it more than Nanaimo does right now” and encouraged every doctor to advocate “because they really, really listen to the nurses, the medical staff and the doctors.”

“It’s Nanaimo’s turn and there is an election coming and I’ll be voting for the particular government that wishes to give us a new hospital expansion,” she said.



Jessica Durling

About the Author: Jessica Durling

Nanaimo News Bulletin journalist covering health, wildlife and Lantzville council.
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