Getting attention, let alone action, in B.C. is not easy for any rural community compared to big cities, especially those closest to the legislature.
On one of the provinces most important topics, a coalition of interests is forming and Burns Lake just joined it. Mayor and council voted to pay the $50 entry fee – a symbolic act rather than a monetary statement – to be one of the first 20 municipalities in the BC Rural Health Network (BCRHN).
“We are in a healthcare crisis and increasing our voice is critical to ensure rural health equity is realized and stabilized throughout our province,” said Paul Adams, administrator for the BCRHN. “The impacts of not addressing rural healthcare affect everyone. It is time to address the unique nature of rural challenges, which require rural-specific solutions.”
The crisis covers the entire province, Adams said, but “As the saying goes, once you have visited one rural community in B.C. you have visited one rural community in B.C. Each is unique and has its own problems and solutions. We cannot champion each individual problem faced, but we can find common areas that will improve health and wellness for many rural communities. Rural residents are resourceful and resilient, and we have solutions to offer. With a louder voice we will ensure we are not just listened to, but heard.”
He explained that, “We are apolitical, we are solutions-based, and we are a registered charity.”
The group was launched in Princeton following a lobby effort there on healthcare issues led those involved to realize the bulk of the province was in the same circumstance. They were soon joined by the community of New Denver, which faced the closure of the Emergency Room at their health centre, but a successful lobby effort staved that off. In the process, one of the leading New Denver supporters, a Chamber of Commerce committee chair named Colin Moss, got elected as a councillor. He knew the weight of advocating to big provincial interests out of his small location. He and Adams started an awareness effort aimed at local governments, in addition to the seniors groups, hospice associations, chambers of commerce, and other not-for-profit societies that are also members.
“The idea is to give all of us a bigger voice at the higher tables – the health ministry, BC Ambulance Service, health authorities – rather than just one community fighting on its own, like we were. There is strength in numbers,” said Moss.
There are about 1.5-million rural residents in B.C. but, said Adams, “Our voice is often swamped by large urban centres, so combining and unifying our voices to bring our messages of solidarity forward makes it more likely we are heard by policy makers in Victoria. We meet with the highest levels.”
Burns Lake’s mayor and council heard their input in October. At the time, councillor Charlie Rensby said, “I’m very much in favour of joining the network. With the current state of our healthcare system, we need to utilize every vehicle that comes our way to try and advocate for the healthcare solutions we want to see.” He motioned for the Village of Burns Lake to research the membership idea and decide at the following meeting.
In the interim, the BCRHN offered a seat at their organizational table to someone the Village of Burns Lake might want to appoint. “I would be interested and willing to sit on that committee,” said councillor Kristy Bjarnason.
The vote passed to confirm the town’s inclusion on the lobby group.