So seriously, folks, what do you want health care to look like? That’s what Fort Nelson is asking its citizens.
Following the failure of a move by the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality earlier this year to secure funding for a new health care centre – as electors, in a relatively rare move, shot down a ballot process designed to avoid a referendum – NRRM officials say they’re going back to the drawing board.
“There was so much conversation that came up throughout that whole time frame that identified the need for a much more involved communication effort on our part, as well as from Northern Health,” said the NRRM’s economic development officer, Jaylene Arnold, who is coordinating the consultation project.
After the Alternate Approval Process received enough “no” votes from locals to derail the project, a list of 860 signatories circulated of those opposed to the Northern Rockies Community Health Centre, requesting a referendum.
That referendum has since been deferred indefinitely.
Now, Arnold and other officials said, the NRRM will take much of the next six months to gather opinions from residents to find out what they would like to see in terms of health care in their community.
The municipality plans to start in mid-December with think tanks, gathering those most active in the conversation, including health care professionals as well as other randomly selected residents.
The NRRM will then summarize the results of those focus groups in newsletters that will be distributed to residents in February. Following that, a survey will be distributed to residents to determine what a broader section of the community would like to see. Finally, officials will host a community healthcare forum workshop in March, to highlight all of the opportunities and challenges they’ve identified.
“Last year, through our health care clinic project, [we saw that] clearly the community has a lot more to say about healthcare and their needs and their initiatives, so I’m really excited about this,” said NRRM Councillor Laurie Dolan, the consultation project’s chair.
“We are starting with a clean slate and we are going to go out in the community in groups – it’s literally starting the conversation on health care needs in Fort Nelson.”
The idea, Arnold added, is to keep the process as open and transparent as possible. Anyone who is interested in joining at any stage is invited to contact the district.
“Everyone will have an opportunity to provide their feedback,” she said. “Understanding that not everyone feels comfortable in a group setting, sometimes it’s easier [for people] to put their thoughts on paper – that’s one avenue; people can do that as well.”
Health care was a hot topic in this year’s municipal election, with many of the candidates stating, among other issues, that they would like to see the maternity ward reopened.
“Fort Nelson sees its future growth as one of young professionals and families and oil- and gas-based workers, and those folks all need health care,” said Dolan. “Unless we can provide that, and unless we can provide the services that a family is going to need, or a growing family is going to need, we’re kind of held out of the gate.”
The councillor also stressed that this is an opportunity to showcase what the region has to offer, not just what it needs.
“We do have a lot of great health care initiatives in Fort Nelson – it’s not all doom and gloom. We have a lot in place,” she said.”
We have great physicians, we have great healthcare providers and mental health and public health and we need to retain them. It’s not all about ‘We need this, we need that.’ We have to celebrate what we do have and build on that.”
Administrators said that, aside from the official points of contact described above, they plan on sharing their progress on a more informal, frequent basis with the public along the way.