Strategies for ensuring the sustainability and improving the quality of B.C.’s health care system.

British Columbia’s rural population is dispersed over a vast and varied geography – a significant challenge when it comes to the delivery of health care services. Access to quality health care services in rural, remote and isolated communities was a recurring theme during the Committee’s inquiry. Presenters shared that many communities are under-resourced for a number of services, and that a significant increase in the provision of resources and services is required to meet the unique needs of individual communities and to ensure positive health outcomes. How British Columbians physically access health care services, and affordable and accessible transportation and transit, are other key challenges.

Improving access also means that existing service delivery models should be regularly examined for cost-effectiveness and efficiency. Presenters brought forward numerous examples of innovative models for delivering health care in rural communities, which could be customized according to each community’s unique needs. Existing funding and compensation models must also be updated to align with any changes or innovations in service delivery.

Issues with access also extend to how British Columbians physically get to health care services.Organizations such as the Nelson Area Society for Health described the patchwork of transit services that currently exist and the inconsistency across neighbouring communities. Others mentioned the significant distances some residents have to travel in order to access health care in larger centres, which can be a significant barrier in the winter and cost prohibitive if individuals have to take time off work or pay for an overnight stay. The barriers are all the more acute for seniors and persons with disabilities.

As Ed Staples of the B.C. Health Coalition and Support Our Health Care Society noted in his presentation to the Committee, “For people living in rural communities, access to health care services requires access to transportation. As our population ages, this requirement means a greater dependency on transportation provided by others. Public transportation service is limited, and for many elderly residents needing specialist care, an all-day trip to a regional hospital is a daunting proposition, not to mention the out-of-pocket costs that may be a significant hardship for some seniors.” Targeted investment in these areas could reduce burdens on the health care system.

Many submissions advocated encouraging rural British Columbians to pursue careers in the health care field, and that distribution of medical education across the province might be a way to encourage entry into this field.
Proponents pointed to research which demonstrates that individuals who are from rural, remote and isolated communities and are trained in the health care field are much more likely to return to their communities.

The Committee heard about a number of initiatives undertaken by educational institutions and regional health authorities to expose young people living in rural B.C. to the health care field. One example was a health care travelling road show in the north organized by the University of Northern British Columbia and University of British Columbia Northern Medical Program.
As Dr. Sean Maurice described to the Committee, the road show consists of a team of health care students from a range of fields (medicine, nursing, physiotherapy, midwifery, dentistry and others) travelling to communities to deliver short presentations and host small group interactive sessions about their respective professions. Not only does this program expose youth in the communities to the health care field as a potential career choice, it also provides the health care students with exposure to rural environments. Tours of local facilities and informal get- togethers with local leaders are also part of the experience.