British Columbia·Video

B.C.'s health-care crisis is unrelenting. What can be done to fix it?

About one in five British Columbians do not have a family doctor. Short staffing have forced emergency rooms in rural communities to close. Wait times for emergency and specialized care continue to climb. In CBC's town hall Situation Critical, health-care leaders address B.C.'s concerns.

CBC B.C. hosted Situation Critical on Tuesday, a town hall to discuss the current state of health care in B.C.

Situation Critical Town Hall

5 days ago
Duration 1:01:57
CBC Vancouver hosts a virtual town hall, Situation Critical, to address the current state of health care, what's not working and what needs to change.

Situation Critical is a series from CBC British Columbia reporting on the barriers people in this province face in accessing timely and appropriate health care.

Vancouver Island resident Joy Williamson hasn't had a family doctor for 10 years. 

During that time, she was diagnosed with breast cancer

While she's undergoing treatment right now, she worries about what will happen once that treatment is over, particularly if the cancer returns. 

"I will be released not having a [general practitioner]. That really concerns me."

Her story is all too familiar in B.C. 

An estimated one in five — nearly a million — British Columbians do not have a family doctor, and that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the health-care crisis in B.C. 

Emergency rooms in rural communities have been forced to close. Wait times for emergency and specialized care continue to climb, and a lack of paramedics has had severe, sometimes fatal consequences. 

WATCH | "No short-term fixes" to health-care crisis, says family physician

Family physician says there are "no short-term fixes" to health-care crisis

5 days ago
Duration 0:41
Dr. Rita McCracken, a family physician and UBC assistant professor, says that if this situation were easy to fix, it would have been done by now.

Allan Greenwood's sister Lorrie Williams suffered a stroke last month and waited an hour for an ambulance, despite living just minutes away from the hospital in New Westminster. 

She's now partially paralyzed, and Greenwood is worried about her future. 

"I'm angry at the people who get paid to look after the system, who aren't doing their job, who allowed it to get to this condition. And people are going to continue to get brain damage or die because the ambulance isn't there. When you need an ambulance, you need an ambulance."

A stock image of doctors in lab coats working at a desk, with stethoscopes visible.
B.C.'s health-care system is at a breaking point, and it's not just hurting patients — it's hurting health-care providers, too. (Shutterstock)

Michael Mort, 82, who suffers from cardiac and neurological conditions, was suddenly without a doctor after his retirement in Victoria last year. His wife, Janet Mort, went so far as to put an ad in the local newspaper looking for a care provider. Luckily for Mort, it worked. 

"Michael's life was in my hands," Janet Mort said. "There was nobody else what was going to help him, except me."

"All I could think of was [to] go public. Surely, there's a compassionate doctor out there who will hear my appeal and squeeze him in as one more patient."

The list goes on.

All this, while the COVID-19 pandemic persists and the toxic drug crisis claims hundreds of lives each month.

"We've all been working in this incredibly stressful environment. It was stressful before the pandemic and the pandemic just pushed us all a little too far," said family physician Dr. Rita McCracken.

On Tuesday, Sept. 20, CBC Vancouver hosted a virtual town hall, featuring panellists including McCracken, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix, and Dr. Ramneek Dosanjh, president of Doctors of B.C.

WATCH | A recording of the Situation Critical town hall, with ASL interpreters. 

Situation Critical Town Hall ASL

5 days ago
Duration 1:00:29
CBC Vancouver hosts a virtual town hall, Situation Critical, to address the current state of health care, what's not working and what needs to change.

No easy answer

Some blame the province's fee-for-service model, others, the immense pressure put on health-care providers.

"I don't think there's an easy answer," said emergency and family physician Kara Perdue. Perdue works in Clearwater, B.C., where the emergency room has been closed several times in recent months because of staffing. 

WATCH | Health-care leaders defend public system

Health-care leaders defend public system

5 days ago
Duration 0:37
When asked about private health care as an alternative to the current system, Dr. Rita McCracken and Dr. Ramneek Dosangh explained the importance of keeping health care public.

She wants decision-makers, such as provincial and federal ministers and local health authorities, to speak directly to health-care staff about the issues they're witnessing in order to come up with a plan. 

Additionally, she said funding for other types of health care, such as mental health support and seniors programs, will take the pressure off primary and emergency health providers.

Long-term, Perdue said, there needs to be more training for doctors and nurses. 

"I think some of it is the change in expectation of the jobs of nurses and doctors compared to what it was 10 years ago, 20 years ago," she said. 

"A lot of people coming out into either profession don't feel adequately prepared from the schooling they've had."

Recruitment and retention of those who choose health-care is part of the puzzle. Dosanjh said those training to work in health-care are already concerned about burnout before they even enter the profession. 

"They do have some fears about the increasing risk, increasing cost of business and how to set up practice in a healthy way to ensure they don't burn out," she said. 

WATCH | Future physicians worry about working conditions, cost of starting business

Future physicians worry about working conditions, cost of starting business

5 days ago
Duration 0:58
Doctors of B.C. president Dr. Ramneek Dosanjh says that while future health-care workers are driven by caring for patients, they want working conditions to improve so they don't burn out.

Arlene Tedjo, an emergency department nurse at Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops, B.C., called in to the town hall to talk about how unsafe the conditions are in her workplace.

Dix said that hospital has operated over-capacity more than any other hospital in the province over the past year.

"Just the other day we had 42 people waiting in line to be triaged with only one nurse to see them all," she said.

She said one nurse is doing the work of up to six nurses at a time because they're so short-staffed, and suggested health-care workers need to be compensated more appropriately to retain more nurses.

Yet these are long-term solutions to a problem that needs solving now.

"I think at this point, it would be foolish for anybody to say 'I have a guaranteed solution,'" McCracken said.

"There are no short-term fixes that are going to magically make this all go away. It would have happened by now if that was possible."

With files from Belle Puri

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