BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Stronger voice needed

There’s no reason to doubt MLA Eric Foster when he says Vernon Jubilee Hospital is “high on my priority list.”

He’s been pushing the bureaucracy behind the scenes and even got Health Minister Mike de Jong to make a stop at the hospital, which is consistently over-capacity.

However, it would be nice if there  was some passion.

Has he publicly stated that current conditions are unacceptable and demanded that acute acre beds be added immediately? Where are the concerns that patients could be placed at risk as they are stacked up in corridors?

Prior to being elected MLA, Foster was mayor of Lumby and North Okanagan Regional District chairperson. He wasn’t afraid to make some noise if he felt it was beneficial for his constituents. Government officials didn’t get an easy ride.

But now that he is our representative in Victoria, there appears to be less fight.

He says he’s “doing everything possible to find more space for beds,” but on the other hand, he justifies the government’s lack of action by insisting “there’s limited money” and other pressures on provincial coffers.

Of course there’s no denying that other towns across B.C. want to access limited financial resources, but that’s quite frankly irrelevant when it comes to the needs of the North Okanagan. Foster — and Shuswap MLA George Abbott for that matter — is supposed to be focused on the home front.

It was a task he acknowledged just days before being sworn into office in June 2009.

“Why I am going there is to represent the concerns of Vernon-Monashee,” he said of the Legislature.

And that should mean casting party loyalty aside if challenging the status quo is truly in the best interest of your community.

Obviously, Foster wouldn’t be very popular with his colleagues but what are they going to do, fire him? And even if he did get the boot from caucus, think of the storm that would create. The media would be in a feeding frenzy over an MLA being punished because he took a stand that favoured constituents and not his political masters.

It’s a public relations fiasco the Liberals would want to avoid, so there would be no official repercussions for Foster doing what is right.

Local physicians have dire warnings about the crisis facing them and other health care workers.

“Overcrowding continues and will continue. All of the problems won’t be solved when the tower doors open,” said Dr. Chris Cunningham, who wants funds committed so two vacant floors in the new tower can become acute care wards.

“The overcrowding clearly leads to compromised patient care, emergency room congestion, overcrowding, cancelled surgeries and increased infection transmissions.”

Foster has certainly played a critical role behind the scenes in making de Jong aware of conditions. But that pressure must be stepped up a notch. He needs to stand in solidarity with physicians, nurses and residents and to find his voice.

The first step could be walking into the Legislature wearing a purple ribbon to indicate his support for VJH and that he wants code purples to end.

Perhaps he could hand the ribbons out to de Jong and Premier Christy Clark.

Richard Rolke is the senior reporter at The Morning Star. He writes a weekly column in the newspaper.

Vernon Morning Star

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