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Doctors calling for new investment in Nanaimo hospital

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A group of seven doctors from the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital are taking an unprecedented step by calling on the province to build a new 600-bed tower at the hospital. It would replace the current on built in 1961.

“We are so desperate,” said Dr. David Coupland, radiologist and president of the medical staff association at NRGH.

Coupland says the current tower is not physically or functionally up to standards. “There are 40 to 80 patients in stretchers all over that hospital every day. Can you imagine how difficult it is for staff to look after them?” said the doctor.

Coupland says the hospital has 360 beds and is consistently over capacity.

He called it outdated and underequipped and said it doesn’t meet seismic code.

The group of seven is also calling on Island Health to create a heart catheterization lab. “It’s where we actually look at your coronary arteries, we look to see if there’s a blockage there or a clot,” said Dr. Neils Swartz, former head of internal medicine at NRGH.

Currently the only cath lab on Vancouver Island is located in Victoria at the Royal Jubilee Hospital. Swartz says Canadian medical guidelines state that in the case of chest pains, patients need to get to a cath lab within a 90-minute window.

If you live on the Mid-Island, meeting that deadline is a challenge.

“It’s impossible,” said Swartz. “You cannot get from Parksville to the Jubilee in 90 minutes.”

He says that puts people with a heart condition in serious danger. It is also adding to the Jubilee’s workload.

“The cardiologists are already overwhelmed, they’re already dealing with all the emergencies in the Victoria area,” said Swartz.

Island Health says that when patients need to be transferred out of a community to receive specialized care, Island Health has well-established processes in place to support those transfers in a timely way.

Doctors in Nanaimo say that’s not happening.

“The majority of the citizens on the island could have access to a cath lab in 90 minutes if we had a hub, a cath lab in Nanaimo,” said Swartz.

The doctors advocating for change say the province and Island Health have made some major investments at the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, including the creation of a new cancer centre and a new $41-million ICU.

They say more is needed and vow to continue to speak out until change comes. “They are both absolutely essential,” said Coupland.

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