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IH looks ahead to aging populations

A delegation from Interior Health spoke about the challenges that it will be facing as the local population ages at Cranbrook's Nov. 25 council meeting.

Erica Phillips and Terri Donmin from Interior Health Authority (IHA) were in council last week to give an update on the region.

"Cranbrook is home to nearly 26,000 residents," Phillips said. "The age group of 45-64 is again a challenge in this area."

Phillips said that though the population is projected to grow by 2.1 per cent through 2017, the baby boomer age group is actually going to see a growth of 20 per cent, putting a greater burden on the health system.

"This will raise more complexity, more chronic disease and more demands for care," she said.

IHA covers 200,000 square kilometres, with a budget of $1.8 billion.

Phillips said the demand for services is higher than the resources that are available.

She said the health authority is committed to a balanced budget so has implemented a hiring freeze on non-critical vacancies and try to control sick days and overtime.

To deal with those challenges, Phillips said they are doing a number of things.

"First of all we know that fewer surgeries today actually require hospital admission and thanks to better understanding of medicine and technology, a greater per cent more surgeries are completed as day surgical cases," she said.

"It's a great step forward, but we also need to ensure that we have the supports we need in the community. "

She said that includes post-surgery support as well as regular access to physicians, nurses, pharmacists and therapists.

IHA recently received approval for a new and expanded regional Intensive Care Unit at East Kootenay Regional Hospital.

It is a $20 million project, including a $12 million electrical upgrade. $12 million is being funded by the province and the remaining $8 million is coming from the Kootenay East Regional Hospital District.

Another upgrade is coming to the heliport to accommodate the new STARS helicopters that are coming into service in 2014.

Coun. Sharon Cross said she was glad to see that there is a drive to get more nurse-practitioners here.

"I think they fill a void in terms of where we don't have doctors in some of our communities, or doctors are in very short supply," Cross said.

Phillips said the province has been working to recognize that there is a need for nurse-practitioners.

"I expect we'll see more numbers as time goes by," Phillips said.

Coun. Gerry Warner noted that Cranbrook doesn't have a walk-in clinic at the moment and asked whether that's a concern to Interior Health.

"Walk-in clinics don't necessarily meet or fill the void completely and actually can create more challenges than they fill," Phillips said.

"So at this point, in terms of Cranbrook, we're not looking to pursue a walk-in clinic. Those particular patient groups are managed through the emergency room and other avenues."

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