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Interior Health CEO, Dr. Halpenny, makes house call to Kootenay Lake Hospital

Suzy Hamilton
By Suzy Hamilton
July 16th, 2014

Dr. Robert Halpenny, CEO of Interior Health, made a house call Tuesday for a routine check-up at Kootenay Lake Hospital in Nelson.

“It’s really important that we understand community issues, “ said Halpenny, president and CEO of IH in Kelowna since 2010 .

He was on an annual tour of Interior Health facilities in the region.

In Nelson, he planned to meet with everyone from health board members and staff, to hospital foundation members and others, tour the hospital and get an actual perspective of the distances involved in rural health care.

And his prognosis was positive for the future of health care in the Interior, stressing that looking forward, not backward is the way to proceed.

Addressing the issue of acute care transport — sometimes called the Golden Hour in health care — he was optimistic that the HART (High Acuity Response Team) ambulance service and helicopter transport, especially for Kaslo, would provide safe coverage for patients.

HART teams consist of highly trained critical care nurses (and respiratory therapists when needed) who provide care equal to that available in a hospital intensive care unit. BC Ambulance Service provides the transportation while Interior Health provides the clinical care.

Halpenny cited the recent addition of 24/7 on call availability of the CT scanner at KLH, the new emergency room and the potential additional space provided for another internist at Kootenay Lake Hospital as steps forward for patient care.

But when asked about a new regional facility between Trail and Nelson, possibly in Castlegar, he replied: “I’m going to leave that to the politicians.”

“I’m not as fussed about bricks and mortar,” he said. “We have to look to the future. Technology is going to change the way we do medicine in the future.”

Halpenny said he would take a “regional approach” rather than a site approach.

To this end, IH is doing a 10-year “scan” for Trail to perceive the needs of the community. It has already been identified that a $40 million upgrade to Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital  in Trail is needed  and a $30 million upgrade to Kootenay Lake Hospital is necessary.

“The bottom line, is are people getting the services they need? I say the answer is yes,” said Halpenny.

But nurses may disagree with his diagnosis.

“What we face is a shortage of specialty nurses, especially in the emergency department and maternity,” said Lorne Burkart, regional chair for the BC Nurses Union.

There are issues around special nursing in general, training and education, he said.

“We just don’t have enough people in the system.”

Burkart said the union has been asking IH for a health and human resource plan.

“How are they going to meet the needs going into services in the future? But we haven’t gotten anywhere with any of the health authorities.”

Burkart said workloads continue to rise. “We are facing (the situation) of doing more with a shrinking budget.”

Nurses, who work 37.5 hours a week, often give up their breaks to get their jobs done. “The medical floor is very busy…there is a heavy daily workload.”

Burkart said a successful treatment for overload would be “less on budget and more on patient outcomes.”

“We are so focused on money today.  If we put money in today, would we save money in the future? We have to start looking at it differently.”

Burkart said most facilities are “under-resourced”, which means they need more nurses.

“Our biggest concerns are workload and patient safety. We need more time to catch things that are going wrong with the patients.”

So while the doctor said wait times of up to a year for cataract surgery are part of a “universal system”, priorities such as heart surgery must take precedence, said Halpenny.

The answer, said Halpenny, is “to ensure that everyone is working to the full scope of their practice. We have to figure out what the new generation of doctors wants and work on economies of scale.”

Categories: Health

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