by Gerald Panio
(Photos by Allan Hughes)
“If health care doesn’t include care, then it doesn’t include health.”
The quote above came from one of the many speakers who gathered at the Kootenay Bay ferry landing on Saturday morning, July 7, to protest the replacement of Mary Donald’s 21-hour-per-week resident East Shore nursing position with “as needed” visitations by nurses from Nelson or Creston. With almost 100 East Shore residents turning up in support, bearing placards with messages such as WE NEED OUR RESIDENT EAST SHORE NURSE BACK! And IHA GIVE BACK OUR NURSE, one would hope that those responsible for downgrading our local health care might be convinced to take a sober second look at the impact of their actions. Since the initial, eloquent letter-writing campaign seems to have had little effect, organizers of Saturday’s rally are making the point that threats to local health care will continue to be aggressively challenged by the community.
Of course, this being the East Shore, the protest involved a little more than just marching around the ferry landing with signs, and handing out letters and information leaflets. The Many Bays Band, under the direction of Donny Clark, set up under the trees by the Kootenay Cove Café and serenaded both protesters and travelers for the better part of two hours, putting smiles on everyone’s faces. There was even a little impromptu dancing in the parking lot. Given the enthusiastic response to the music all around, and the plenteous honks of support from vehicles getting on and off the ferries, this may be an inspiration for future activism. You can get your message across with a sense of joy and appreciation, as well as indignation and anger.
And the message was pretty clear. There is no substitute for having a resident RN on the East Shore who is intimately familiar with the needs to the people who live here. How many other small communities could boast of having a local health care specialist with a 40-year knowledge of our needs and services? Speaker after speaker praised the quality of Mary Donald’s accessibility and care, with several of our community’s seniors explaining how important that care had been in allowing them to remain here in their homes for as long as possible. Also stressed by many of those who spoke was the fact that the most cost-effective health care was the preventative kind. Prevention is worth a pound of cure. It was pointed out that this area has a lot of healthy elderly people, and that’s in part thanks to the quality of health care that’s been provided. In addition to directly providing nursing services, Mary Donald has also been able to very effectively liaise between residents and the wide assortment of other health care providers in the region.
No one who spoke was willing to accept the Interior Health Authority’s argument that paying an itinerant nurse four hours of travel time to deliver three hours of services was cost efficient. There was also some outrage that the IHA would be talking cost efficiency when the combined salaries of its top 5 administrators would pay for 28 nursing positions. No one at the rally was willing to accept that the new status quo would come close to replacing what has been lost. It’s now up to all of us who use health care services on the East Shore to document the need for the level of service provided in the past, and the challenges and threats created as the result of the recent changes. Physiotherapist Anna Rose has an excellent article about this in the July Mainstreet, and everyone who was at the protest had a chance to get a response form from the East Shore Health Society Sub-committee on Nursing Services. Fill it out. Send it in. Bureaucrats aren’t fond of owning up to mistakes, but we can build a pretty good case and remind them that they’re responsible to the people they serve.
The East Shore has slowly managed to build up solid community health care after the tragic loss of Dr. Frances Savory in 2002. The recent changes amount to little more than short-sighted sabotage. As one senior pointed out, rural areas had community health nurses even during the Great Depression. As Canada’s population ages, health authorities need to do more than pay lip service to the value of preventative medicine and quality home care. Let’s give several enthusiastic pats-on-the-back to all those rally organizers and health society members who have refused to let this issue slide under the rug. One of the final pieces the band played on Saturday morning was a revised version of “You Are My Sunshine” with the line “Why did they take our Mary away?” Why, indeed.