Nanaimo urgently needs cardiac unit, stakeholders say: ‘The inequality is obvious’

Click to play video: 'Advocates sound the alarm on cardiac care in Nanaimo'
Advocates sound the alarm on cardiac care in Nanaimo
WATCH: People in Nanaimo are sounding the alarm about what they call inadequate cardiac care. They want the province to provide the fast growing city with better facilities to diagnose and care for those with cardiac challenges. Richard Zussman now with what they say is missing – Aug 8, 2023

Residents of central and northern Vancouver Island are getting a sub-standard level of heart health care and urgently need a new cardiac facility, according to a group of doctors and community leaders.

Staff with the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital NRGH), the city’s mayor and community leaders gathered Tuesday to lay out what they said was inequitable treatment for the region’s population, and to make the case for a new cardiac unit including a cardiac catheterization lab.

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Nanaimo nurses rally outside hospital for better working conditions

Dr. David Copeland, a radiologist and president of NRGH’s medical staff, said the hospital, which serves a population of 450,000 people, currently has just one cardiologist, few cardiac services and no catheterization lab.

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He compared that to southern Vancouver Island, which has a smaller population but between 21 and 22 cardiologists, two catheterization labs, and all cardiac services including surgery.

That has left Central and North Island residents as the largest population in Canada without access to a catheterization lab, a key facility for diagnosing heart problems and providing critical treatments like angioplasty.

“What does that mean? Access to a Cath lab is the standard of care for heart attacks, and for a big heart attack access and opening of the blocked artery needs to happen within 90 minutes,” Copeland said.

“The result is inadvertently two standards of care on the island. The inequality is obvious.”

That inequality, he said, leads to undue harm, higher mortality, poorer long-term outcomes and increased cost to both patients and the system.

Nanaimo Mayor Leondard Krog said his city was among the five fastest-growing regions in Canada, and has a disproportionately older population more likely to need heart health care.

He said fairness dictated an expansion of services for the region to bring them more in line with what is available in the Victoria area, and other fast-growing parts of the province.

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“Imagine for a moment if you’re a physician trying to explain to somebody that the person they love is no longer alive because they couldn’t get access in a timely way to something that might well have saved their lives,” Krog said.

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“What I am calling upon the provincial government to recognize today is what they did in Surrey, and recognize if there’s a need for a Cath lab in Surrey, I can assure you there is a much greater need for a Cath lab in the City of Nanaimo.”

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Nanaimo Regional Hospital District board chair Ian Thorpe acknowledged the province’s commitment to other projects at the hospital, including replacing its aging ICU and building a new high-acuity unit, along with plans for a new cancer centre, but said it wasn’t enough.

“Given the region’s growing and aging population, it is simply a reality that cardiac care needs are increasing drastically,” he said.

“These projects, including the lab we are focusing on today, are badly overdue.”

The cost of a cardiac facility for the hospital will be significant, Thorpe said, but one which residents are prepared to help shoulder.

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The district is responsible for covering 40 per cent of capital costs for new health-care facilities.

Thorpe said the district began levying a hospital surtax seven years ago, and has doubled it in the last three years with plans to raise it higher to meet the anticipated costs of a cardiac unit along with other critical improvements to the hospital.

“We are talking millions, billions, so to affirm our commitment to new facilities we as the regional district have a unanimous plan for a long-term financial strategy. We want to be in a position to meet our obligations and we are willing to take steps to do so,” he said.

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Nanaimo and District Hospital Foundation board chair Tony Harris said donors were equally willing to step up.

The foundation recently spearheaded a campaign to raise $5.5 million to equip the hospital’s new ICU, and Harris said he was confident it could do the same again for a cardiac care unit.

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“I think that’s proven that the capacity exists in this region to get behind compelling projects,” he said.

“And of course when it comes to the Cath lab and anything heart health related it touches so many people, so we believe there is a broad base of donors out there at all levels who will get involved, but already we have a number of people who are committed to donating over a million dollars each.”

Copeland said the hospital and Island Health have completed a cardiac program and catheterization lab plan, and submitted it to the Ministry of Health, but now need the province to step up and make it a reality.

Health Minister Adrian Dix was unavailable for an interview Tuesday, but in a statement said he’d met with health-care workers at the hospital to discuss concerns, including about a cardiac services.

Cardiac care, he said, is overseen by Cardiac Services B.C., which is responsible for planning and coordinating services across the province.

“Cardiac Services BC is actively working with Island Health in its role to support planning, which involves health human resources, building and equipment requirements, and other needs/criteria,” Dix said.

He said the hospital had doubled capacity at the Heart Function Clinic in Nanaimo, which has helped reduce hospitalizations through early intervention, and that a second cardiologist for the hospital was slated to start work in September.

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Another cardiologist has been hired to work in the region, and recruitment of more specialists is ongoing, he said.

“NRGH has the ability to perform a number of cardiac diagnostic procedures, while the Royal Jubilee Hospital is the designated cardiac care center for the Island where specialized treatment, procedures and equipment are available.”

“Island Health’s Heart Health program provides cardiac care in-person and virtually to patients throughout the Island Health region.”

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