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New study aims to collect, amplify rural voices in B.C. health care ‘crisis’

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A team of researchers has launched a new study collecting the perspectives of rural British Columbians on the province’s oft-criticized health-care system.

According to the UBC Centre for Rural Health Research and BC Rural Health Network, many thousands of rural residents “often feel their health-care needs are overshadowed by urban-focused health policies.”

The new project, called “Closing the Gap,” aims to examine the role of rural communities in policy decisions, identify disconnects and develop strategies for “more effective engagement.”

“We’re in a health-care crisis and I think that’s been acknowledged by everybody from the minister on down, but really rural British Columbia has been in a health-care crisis for a couple of decades,” Paul Adam, executive director of the BC Rural Health Network, told Global News.

“Often you have only one point of access for medical appointments and getting primary care treatment or emergency treatment — it would be equivalent to a downtown Vancouver resident having to drive to Chilliwack to seek a regular medical appointment.”

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The study is funded by the Social Planning and Research Council of BC. It will see researchers interview policymakers and rural leaders, and distribute a province-wide survey on the topic.

The group hopes the findings result in better health outcomes and contribute to the creation of an online platform for public input on health-care policies, it said in a Tuesday news release.

Dr. Jude Kornelson, principal co-investigator, said some of the issues can be traced back to the elimination of hospital boards in the early 2000s — a move made with good intentions.

“The thinking behind that was that we were going to specific geographic regions in order to be more responsive to the health-care needs, which are completely different in Oliver than they are in Atlin,” she explained.

“However, that really didn’t bear out for the small communities because what in fact happened was a version of regional centralization where still, all the decision making was in the larger community — so Kamloops, Kelowna, Prince George, etcetera.”

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Addressing the launch of the project and some of its claims about rural health care, Health Minister Adrian Dix said the province is making much-needed investments. He pointed to recent expansion of the community oncology network in Kamloops, Nanaimo, Surrey and other places, and an increased focus on recruitment of nurses and doctors to rural areas.

“Absolutely, we are committed to provided more and better service in rural B.C.,” he said at an unrelated press conference Tuesday.

“Nothing beats having people in your community, and that’s why the development — especially of rural primary care networks — is so central to what we’re doing.”

Dix also highlighted increased air ambulance capacity in rural areas, implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the construction of hospitals in Fort St. James, Terrace and Dawson Creek.

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The Closing the Gap study is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.



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