PORT ALICE, B.C. – Port Alice’s mayor is concerned that clawing back health care in the village could put village residents in peril.

Changes proposed to the Port Alice Health Centre will result in the loss of emergency care, a reduction and possible loss of doctors and nurses willing to practice in Port Alice, the loss of the emergency room and its equipment, and an end to on-call after hours.

“It is a large question for us,” mayor Kevin Cameron said.

“It’ll come down to life and death. Just the realization that they are saying, ‘Well, it’s a 45-minute ambulance drive if we put somebody in the back of an ambulance.’ Well, no, it’s an hour (and) 10 (minutes) at the very best of conditions.”

The North Island Gazette reported that a mail out to residents read: “Port Alice Health Centre staff will no longer provide emergency or urgent (non-primary) care”. The Gazette reported that the reasons for elimination of those services were cited as: “Decreasing utilization/challenges in staffing 24/7 urgent care services”. Other changes would be a reduction from 1.4 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) physicians to .8, and a reduction from 2 FTE Registered Nurses (includes on call) to 1 Registered Nurse FTE (no on call).

The Gazette also reported that an advance notice also states: “Emergency and urgent care will be provided by BC Ambulance Service”.

Cameron noted that conditions are often challenging in the winter, with snow and trees blown across roadways, Cameron noted.

“It’s very tough to accomplish the ambulance objectives, there,” he added.

The mayor added that the village council has had quite a few meetings with the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) and council has stated its position that the village needs to have these services for its residents.

Roughly 200 people attended a Feb. 20 community meeting at the Port Alice Recreation Centre, focusing on changes to health services in the village.

“(They were there) to voice their opinions of a health care system and how we were in need of an emergency room,” Cameron said.

Cameron said the Health Authority “seemed to listen” to the concerns.

“But before this community meeting, it seemed like they were just going to impose what they thought was the best for the health care system in Port Alice.”

He hopes to see more engagement in the future.

“Of course we don’t have a resident image scan machine, and we’re never going to get one,” Cameron said. “But there are needs that have to be addressed in our community. We just can’t put everybody in the back of an ambulance and ship them down to Campbell River or Courtenay. That’s not functional. That will never work. And of course there will be loss of lives.”

Port Alice is a small, close-knit community, Cameron said, and he thanked the number of citizens who took the time to write letters of concern to the Health Authority and to B.C’s health minister Adrian Dix about these proposed changes.

“And apparently VIHA is coming back to the table to talk some more which is a positive step for us,” Cameron said. “I just hope at the end of the day that somebody’s actually listening.”

Meanwhile, changes will still come to the Port Alice Health Centre, but they’re not set in stone, according to the Port Alice Health Forum Society chairperson Valerie Eyford.

“The people of Port Alice just don’t think it’s acceptable to lose our emergency room. We know we’re not a hospital, but we want our medical personnel to have the ability to get us stabilized if we’re in crisis so we can be safely transferred to a larger centre,” she said.