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Comment: Vancouver Island's pediatric centre needs your support

The time has come for Vancouver Island to acknowledge the excellent, comprehensive pediatric services provided at Victoria General Hospital
A caregiver holds a baby in the neonatal intensive-care unit at Victoria General Hospital in Victoria in 2017. Many Island residents are unaware that VGH’s pediatric intensive-care centre is one of only two such centres in the province, Dr. Jennifer Balfour writes. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

A commentary by a Victoria pediatrician.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, when the radio has another announcement of a craft fair that invites Island visitors to donate to B.C. Children’s Hospital when they attend.

And we had jeans day this fall, also raising money for BCCH, and in the spring, radio campaigns will start to raise money for the hospital.

As someone who trained at B.C. Children’s Hospital in pediatrics, and as a professional who enjoys the collegial consultative expertise of colleagues in Vancouver, I also celebrate that institution.

But the time has come for our Vancouver Island community to fully acknowledge the excellent, comprehensive pediatric services provided at Victoria General Hospital. It’s time to support the development of a visionary Island Centre of Pediatric Care that fully reflects the care we provide as the tertiary referral centre it already is, and plans for the growing future that is ahead.

The local population might be somewhat unaware that VGH is the other major pediatric intensive-care centre in the province, already receiving on diversion the babies and children that the over-capacity BCCH intensive care cannot take.

Our neonatal intensive-care nursery provides exceptional expert care to one in six of the 3,000 babies born annually at VGH. We are one of the only hospitals in the province that has a pediatrician on site, in the hospital, 24 hours a day.

Most kids with cancer in Victoria, and children with exceptional conditions such as cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, diabetes and cardiac conditions, receive their care almost entirely here, at our centre, with our nurses, doctors and expert allied health.

And yet many of our local citizenry are unaware, and contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars of donations per year to BCCH in these many mentioned campaigns, because of our local failure to be visible, to advocate and to be visionary, and to describe our very real local care needs.

Maternity and child care are humble fields. The caregivers are hardworking, uncomplaining, and are so used to being heroic and stickhandling the exceptional, multiple crises, and the chronic and precarious on a daily basis that perhaps the stories get lost in our “this is every day” attitude.

Meanwhile, at VGH, the average pediatric clinic room is the size of a dingy closet, the nurses are run off their feet and the paint is 25 years old.

The talk of surgical waitlists and diagnostic equipment and fundraising for fancy monitors fails to capture that what is required now, without waiting, is the local populace to demand a pediatric hospital within our adult hospital. The pediatric centre needs the signage, the programming, the leadership, the clinic space and the service development that befits the work we are already doing, and which is only destined to grow.

Our emergency room is one of the three busiest in the province for pediatric visits. Our pediatric population is projected to grow by at least five per cent in the next 10 years and babies, children and youth will require diverse, expert, specialized care and a true accessible system around them.

The pandemic has made people aware of health issues that affect young people, from eating disorders to a mental-health crisis to respiratory syncytial virus, the latter of which has overwhelmed our pediatric ward for almost every year of the last 20, but only this year has made the news.

Local business leaders, the public and our government need to give our health authority the mandate and the means to create a desperately needed new structure, signage, visibility and true programming to deliver the services our pediatric population needs.

Fundraisers often want to raise money for capital equipment, to be able to say “we bought that machine” and thank you for that.

But pediatrics runs on people, and on skills and space and on vision and on team-based programming, where the social worker and the pharmacist and the doctor and nurse all together meet some extraordinary health-care needs.

There are many children in your neighbourhood that have a rare disease, a disease that only one other kid in B.C. has, or a few hundred in the world, but altogether, all of these rare children with special health-care needs make up the everyday work of my colleagues and create wait lists lasting many months for care, right here at home.

BCCH fundraising is captivating, and people want to help sick children, and we can assure you the local need is profound, and the time is now to act.

There are many people in this city with local power, with dollars, with voice and influence, and as we lament the “crumbling health care system” and “why didn’t we see this coming,” please join my colleagues and me in sending your donations not over the water to BCCH, but to our local pediatric services.

We ask that every one of those dollars goes to a true pediatric hospital within a hospital, an Island Pediatric Care Centre, where we can continue to recruit excellence, sit at every table with as much power as any other department, with high visibility, so that nobody need ask us again “really, you look after sick kids like that here?”

We sure do. Every day, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

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