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Suspended doctor plans community health centre in Port Hardy

Dr. Alex Nataros says two physicians have approached him to establish a CHC, having secured space in Thunderbird Mall
Dr. Alex Nataros at a news conference in Victoria on Friday. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

A Port Hardy Hospital physician whose ER privileges were suspended pending a hearing next week says he intends to establish a non-profit community health centre in the north Island municipality.

Dr. Alex Nataros, speaking at a news conference in Victoria on Friday, said two physicians have approached him to establish a community health centre, or CHC. It will run from a space at Thunderbird Mall.

CHCs, which are run by non-profit societies or co-operatives, provide primary health care and programs that focus on preventing illness and promoting health.

The province has funded three CHCs in the south Island — two in Victoria and one in the West Shore.

Nataros’ plan comes after he asked the Health Ministry to allow him to hire a physician assistant, a position not regulated in B.C. Come July 1, he’ll be the only ER physician at the hospital after two physicians leave this spring.

This week, Nataros called for the resignation of Island Health chief medical officer Ben Williams over what Nataros claims is harassment for speaking out.

Island Health said the restrictions on Nataros are solely based on complaints by one patient and two care-team colleagues and an investigation that followed, and are not related to speaking out in the media.

A meeting to review the reasons behind the restrictions is scheduled for Wednesday.

“It has been devastating to have Island Health, under the Ministry of Health, restrict my ability to practice,” said Nataros.

“In the spurious case provided — inappropriately in recent days — by Ben Williams, my care was appropriate, and there were no adverse outcomes.

“Owing to this mistreatment and the recent very public misrepresentation by … Ben Williams, I no longer feel safe working in Island Health facilities.”

Nataros said he will continue to work on the ward at Port Hardy hospital and Eagle Ridge Manor long term care.

“I’m committed to my patients. I am not going anywhere,” he said.

By working in a CHC, Nataros believes he can partially extricate himself from the health authority.

Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau, who led the press conference, would not weigh in on whether the health authority was correct in pulling Nataros’ ER privileges. However, she said health care workers in general did not feel they are able to communicate with or work with senior administration “for fear of reprisal.”

“I’m asking Health Minister Adrian Dix to acknowledge and recognize the systemic workplace issues that are in our health-care system,” said Furstenau.

“They are real and the situation cannot tolerate any more downplaying. Its inference is not only felt by the health-care workers themselves, but by their patients who cannot rely on equitable, accessible health care to be there when they need it.”

Furstenau said she has met physicians who left Cowichan because of workplace conditions and a poor relationship with Island Health.

“It is a systemic issue and needs to be recognized as such,” said Furstenau, saying CHCs with physician assistants and nurse practitioners are part of the answer to the crisis in which one million B.C. residents say they can’t find a family doctor.

Dix said this week he has full confidence in Williams and, while things can be improved, he supports the work of Island Health.

North Island’s hospitals have struggled for decades to retain doctors and nurses. Last year saw a see-sawing of weekend and overnight ER closures between Port Hardy and Port McNeill hospitals, 40 kilometres apart, and Cormorant hospital.

Amid an outcry over the ER closures, instability of health care in the region and the lack of doctors and nurses, the province last month announced a $30-million plan to recruit health-care workers and rebuild facilities.

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