Community mourns doctor who put focus on health care in the north

Dr. Bert Kelly helped create the Northern Medical Program and bring improved cancer care to the Prince George region.

Dr. Bert Kelly helped create the Northern Medical Program and bring improved cancer care to the region

Dr. Bert Kelly stands to the left of then-Premier Gordon Campbell at the announcement of a new cancer centre for northern B.C. (Province of British Columbia)

A doctor who spent decades working to improve health care in northern British Columbia is being mourned after he died Tuesday night.

Dr. Bert Kelly was a "tireless champion for health care" said Prince George city councillor Susan Scott, who announced his passing via Facebook.

Kelly was a key architect of the Northern Medical Program, in which students in UBC's medical program are trained in northern B.C. in an effort to help recruit and retain future medical professionals in a region that historically has been underserved.

Faced with chronic doctor shortages in Prince George and the surrounding area, Kelly helped lead a local group of physicians and specialists in what was effectively a strike in 2000, withdrawing non-essential services until the province agreed to commit more funding and efforts to recruitment and retention of doctors in the north. 

By 2004 the Northern Medical Program was opened, with Kelly serving the role of Executive Director of the Northern Medical Society.

In 2010, Premier Gordon Campbell recognized Kelly's advocacy with a B.C. Community Achievement Award. In the nominating papers, Kelly was described as "the voice and incarnation of healthcare reform in the north."

Kelly's other achievements included bringing several lab training programs to the College of New Caledonia and the opening of the B.C. Cancer Centre for the North in Prince George so patients would not have to travel to other parts of the province to receive treatment. 

He could be, quite frankly, a real pain in the ass, but it was very timely and necessary when it was applied.- Susan Scott

Scott said Kelly was unafraid to speak out about problems.

"He'd tell you the truth even if you didn't want to hear it," she said.

"He could be, quite frankly, a real pain in the ass, but it was very timely and necessary when it was applied."

Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond described Kelly as a "catalyst for change" in a Tweet thanking him for his advocacy.

In a 2014 interview with CBC, Kelly continued to raise alarm bells about the lack of health care services in northern B.C., citing a lack of physiotherapists, speech pathologists and other specialists and asked for funding to have them trained in the region, as well.

"For better than 100 years now we've been training professionals in the Lower Mainland, hoping they will move north," he said. "But they don't... I think if you've been trying something for 100 years and it hasn't worked, it might be time to re-examine the model."

Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.

About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

@akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is a radio producer and digital journalist in northern British Columbia, situated in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh in Prince George.