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North Island doctor looks to create community health centre after losing ER privileges

The creation of a community healthcare centre is on the radar for a North Island doctor, following Island Health restricting his emergency room privileges.

Dr. Alex Nataros said in a media conference in Victoria today that he, along with other colleagues, would be creating the centre in Port Hardy with support from the local Rotary Club and Hardy Bay Pharmacy.

Dr. Nataros added he’s committed to the patients of the North Island, and while his privileges in the emergency room are restricted, he will continue to work in other areas.

“I will be working in the acute care hospital as I was yesterday where I had to explain [Dr.] Ben Williams’ comments to my nursing team,” said Dr. Nataros. “I don’t feel safe working in Island Health facilities, [and] to the extent I can I’m going to extricate myself from them.

“That looks like starting a non-profit community health centre with two physician colleagues who have approached me with the expressed purpose of starting a clinic outside of Island Health.”

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The conference follows Dr. Nataros having his emergency room privileges restricted by Island Health. Dr. Nataros publicly called earlier in February for the resignation of vice-president Dr. Ben Williams.

Dr. Williams said in a statement yesterday that the restrictions are due to safety concerns brought up by patients about Dr. Nataros. However, Dr. Nataros claims it is in relation to his calls for Dr. Williams’ resignation and/or having his service dog in the workplace.

Others are saying working conditions within Island Health are deteriorating. BC Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau says she has heard from many physicians that working conditions are adding to the strain.

“We are hearing from more and more doctors who are describing their working conditions as unacceptable, but they cannot speak out for fear of reprisal,” said Furstenau.

“In addition, there are two recent reports – the Island Health employee survey and the Doctors of B.C. report – that both paint a picture of an unhealthy workplace culture.” 

Furstenau says the report states that one in two doctors feels satisfied with their health authority as a place to practice medicine.

She adds that in Island Health, 40 per cent feel satisfied with the health authority, 38 per cent felt they have opportunities to improve patient care and safety, 28 per cent said they have meaningful input, 18 per cent senior leaders seek physician input and nine per cent indicated leaders’ decision making is transparent to physicians.

The survey received responses from almost 3,000 doctors across the province’s multiple health authorities.

Furstenau says in the Cowichan Valley, they have lost seven doctors who have left their roles because of the conditions of their workplace and their relationship with Island Health.

“This is not to say that it is individuals within Island Health that are bad or are doing things that are terrible,” said Furstenau. “It is a systemic issue and needs to be recognized as such and we need a health minister who acknowledges this reality.”

Furstenau says the province needs to employ physician assistants and nurse practitioners and start community health centres during the crisis to provide care for British Columbians.

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