Last remaining ER doctor in Port Hardy pleads for help after colleagues resign

Last remaining ER doctor in Port Hardy pleads for help after colleagues resign
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Port Hardy’s physician shortage is facing a critical condition of its own, and the soon-to-be last remaining emergency room doctor there says he can’t do it alone.

“Does this mean that cancer cases will be diagnosed too late? Yes. Does it mean that patients will potentially die because of care delivered too late? I hope not,” said Dr. Alex Nataros from his Port Hardy clinic on Saturday.

“I’m working hard to try and prevent that, I’m also working hard to try and look after myself and not burnout.”

According to Nataros, two more Port Hardy doctors submitted their resignations this week due to burnout.

“This is classic for rural and remote communities where the doctors there are stretched thin and the doctors there are pushed to the limit,” said Nataros.

It comes as the North Island deals with ongoing hospital closures.

On Friday, Island Health extended its overnight closures of the Port Hardy Hospital’s emergency department through Feb. 6 due to the staffing crisis.

The new resignations will leave just two physicians for the entire community as of July 1 — a number that comes as a shock to the district’s mayor.

“That makes it an even bigger crisis on the North Island and we’re supposed to have seven doctors for a population our size,” said Port Hardy Mayor Pat Corbett-Labatt.

Port Hardy is the largest community on the North Island, yet Island Health data shows from July 2022 to Jan. 2023, the Port Hardy ER was closed 1274 hours or 25 per cent of the time due to staffing shortages.

SEE ALSO: Doctor shortage in Port Hardy leads to overnight ER closures 28 times in October

“Closing for 25 per cent of the time since July, it’s scary. Between Port Hardy and Port McNeill, where patients are diverted, half that distance isn’t covered by cell phone. For those who haven’t been up here, it’s very isolated,” said Corbett-Labatt.

While recruitment efforts continue to bring doctors and nurses to Port Hardy, Nataros is urged B.C.’s health minister to allow the hiring of physician assistants to give doctors the extra help they need on the ground now.

“We have many physician assistants that want to move to British Columbia if only Minister Adrian Dix would let them and let physicians hire help. I need help,” said Nataros.

“We’re understanding they are unregulated, but I think we have to look outside the box. And our community is totally open to being a pilot project,” added Corbett-Labatt.

READ MORE: ‘We’re just missing opportunities’: Advocates say physician assistants can help ease health care crunch

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