Colleen O’Neil has been working to build better health-care support as part of the Medical Clinic Society on Bowen.
She sees a dire need for a health centre so that islanders don’t have to leave the island when they feel least like commuting into town for health services. O’Neil is flabbergasted that it would appear to Vancouver Coastal Health that we are well-served on Bowen when it comes to medical services as a result of their own survey “My Health, My Community.”
“However, we went in depth and drilled down into their results with a 39-page survey. Our survey showed that while 85 per cent of us have a GP, (general practitioner or family doctor) only 32 per cent use a GP on the island. It would seem like we are well-served here, but we are not.”
Here is a link to the slide presentation produced by the Health Centre Society to council on January 18, 2016. Please refer to this presentation for more detailed survey results:
She adds: “The fact that so many people are going off island for medical attention is what prompted us to look more closely at how we get health care.”
O’Neil says that the high level of engagement in both the VCH survey and the locally created survey indicates that people consider the topic to be important enough to complete time-consuming surveys.
While the VCH survey shows that we get lots of exercise, eat well, and have a high quality of life, the primary take-away from VCH was that we need more “active transportation” and suggests improved biking trails. O’Neil is not impressed. She refers to the statistics drawn from the survey produced on the island showing that we have some serious health-service needs beyond biking to work. O’Neil explains that the society found “interesting” statistics. Sixty-five per cent of islanders go off island to see their GP, which is leading to problems with expense and time.
Another issue she points out is that findings show that when people rate health good to excellent, 83 per cent with chronic conditions would still rate their health good to excellent despite having a need for primary care services. In addition, of the people needing primary care with a doctor off island, half have delayed getting health care because of travel involved, and half of that group noted that the delay made their condition worse.
What’s more, 50 per cent of respondents said they had difficulty accessing care they need, 41 per cent said they felt health was at risk because of the lack of services, and 23 per cent would consider moving off island because of limited health care.
O’Neil said 206 people wrote comments in the survey saying that they have felt scared, worried and anxious. People filled out 95 pages of information in detail. O’Neil feels that having a centre where specialists can provide weekly services for things like osteoporosis, cardiac care and other supportive rehabilitation services would greatly improve the chances of locals being able to age in place.
“We have no weekend care, no urgent care, limited access to GPs, no doctor you can see in the evening. It’s hard to age in place, and people are reluctant to call 9-1-1,” she says.
O’Neil has put a lot of time and energy into getting the information that she knows now almost by heart. She read all the comments and saw a common thread throughout, which is why she is confident in what she has to say and presented the information at a Monday morning meeting to the Committee of the Whole.
Some other numbers from survey: 141 respondents complained about time, expense and hassle; 63 per cent feel a centre would help their health; and 93 per cent would use a health centre.
“We could greatly improve access to health care here,” says O’Neil.
She points out that there are other isolated communities who have found a solution to the same problem and their solution has been to create a collaborative health centre, which is different than a clinic. She explains that the name of the group she represents is a misnomer, but that it would cost money to change the name from Medical Health Clinic Society to an alternative.
O’Neil says other small communities and islands have community health centres where they work as an integrated team. On Gabriola they “do this beautifully where specialists come once a month to a facility.”
The island doctors, along with Docs on the Bay in Horseshoe Bay, who tend to a large percentage of Bowen Island residents, are all in conversation with the board of The Medical Clinic Society of Bowen Island. Together they are looking for ways to improve health care and Bowen’s Dr. Sue Schloegle has partnered in a lot of the work of the survey and is also a member of the board.
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