Get ready. The National Health Summit taking place at the Civic Centre this week is expected to bring rural health care to the forefront in way this city hasn’t seen since the doctors walked off the job in June.
The conference is expected to cost between $85,000 to $100,000. The majority of that money is being paid for by $200 registration fees of 380 expected delegates, $10,000 each from the North Central Municipal Association and city budgets, corporate sponsors and the provincial government.
The delegates are expected to come from across B.C. and provincial and municipal governments across Canada. It will also see federal representative Hedy Fry and provincial Health Minister Corky Evans in attendance.
The summit runs Thursday to Saturday this week, with the first day set aside for a B.C. focus. By Saturday, organizers hope to produce an action plan to be used as a lobbying tool for the federal government. The presence of Federation of Canadian Municipalities president Joanne Monaghan, a speaker at the summit is expected to facilitate those lobbying efforts.
By far the biggest news to come out of the summit is an expected announcement Thursday by UNBC president Dr. Charles Jago on the establishment of a medical training program at UNBC.
“We expect the odd announcement we’ll keep our fingers crossed on how large,” Mayor Colin Kinsley said on Tuesday. “We want to keep this results-driven. Our focus is really beyond Prince George. We want to improve access to health care services so they are available to all of Canada.”
Dr. Jago’s announcement has been highly anticipated since the project was first mentioned in front of 7,000 people at the June 22 doctors rally at the Multiplex.
“We hope to hear an announcement that will further our interests in achieving a northern centre of excellence in Prince George,” says Dr. Bert Kelly of the Northern Medical Society.
But whether the announcement will see Prince George as home to a Center of Excellence on Rural and Remote Health depends on your definition of excellence.
“It’s difficult to say whether that will be happening,” says Dr. Kelly, who sits on an committee that worked with Dr. Jago on the initiative. “That would mean restoring Prince George as a complete northern health facility for northern people including restoring the hospital as a fully functioning regional hospital, reestablishing it as a northern trauma centre, creating a functioning referral centre and a northern educational centre. You don’t build all that in six months.”
The announcement, he says, hinges on the provincial government’s “political will to do what has to be done to bring reasonable health care to northern people. We expect a government change and I don’t know if the Liberal government will be more receptive but if they’re not we will be lobbying them to follow through.”
NCMA president and city councillor Dan Rogers says the action plan should reflect the urgency needed to deal with these issues on a national level.
“We want to address the issues. We may not necessarily solve anything but it could mean the survival of many of the communities in the North Central Municipal Association,” says. Mr. Rogers.
He adds that many smaller communities will have difficulty recruiting professionals if they can’t provide basic health care services.
The conference is also expected to be picketed Friday by women who say they’ve been left out of the conference agenda.
“We have met with them and provided an opportunity to appear inside,” says Mr. Rogers. “I would not be surprised if others had decided to protest given that the health minister will be here.”