Letter: Access to Medical Services

The Chief of Staff at the Golden Hospital discusses local access to medical services.

Open letter to the Minister of Health:

I would like to raise your awareness of the plight of our community in regards to access to medical services.

Golden is a rural town of 5,000 people located on the Trans-Canada Highway. It sits in a valley between Roger’s pass and Kicking Horse pass. Although East Kootenay Regional Hospital in Cranbrook is designated as our primary referral centre, their services are limited and patients frequently have to travel elsewhere.

I understand that PET scanning and MRI cannot be offered in every city, let alone mountain villages. I can almost understand that ultrasound services are only available sporadically in our town. I recognize the benefits of centralizing Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangio-Pancreatography or vascular services to major centres such as Kelowna. I fully appreciate the fact that expertise in endoscopic ultrasound techniques can only flourish in a high volume tertiary care centre such as Vancouver.

I’ve come to learn that people accept these limitations as the cost of a quiet country lifestyle, balanced by numerous other benefits.

However, patients undergoing cancer treatment, for example, are generally unwell. They are weak from the disease process and at times from the treatments themselves. Their condition fluctuates day to day and increasingly we rely on sophisticated testing to monitor and alter management. They, if anyone, require facilitated access to the nearest provider. In our case, this happens to be 3 hours away, in Calgary, across the Provincial border. Yet time and time again, restrictions to inter-provincial access force our patients to seek those same services as far as Vancouver.

These are people like you and I, who in that particular moment of their life require support more than ever from us, the health care providers and from family and friends who frequently happen to live on the “wrong side of the border.” We force them to travel across the province to an unfamiliar metropolis where everyone is a stranger. Most of the time they can’t drive themselves, bus transport is inappropriate and the nearest airports are in Cranbrook or Calgary. Then there’s accommodation. For many, the cost is prohibitive.

Invariably I feel sad, frustrated and angry when I see political boundaries trump geographic proximity. I feel sad when I see the hardship our patients must experience at a difficult time in their lives. I feel frustrated that the limitations are arbitrary and illogical. I feel angry when patients turn down potentially curative treatments because they can’t tolerate or afford the travel imposed on them.

I realize that the issues of a few thousand rural residents barely register on the radar of Provincial Health Care, but honestly, I find it downright cruel that our residents are being treated this way.

I would welcome an opportunity to address these concerns with you.



Jean-Gaston DesCoteaux

Chief of Staff, Golden and District Hospital