With a historic municipal election just weeks away, four mayoral hopefuls campaign for the top seat at City Hall. Along with eighteen council candidates, they form one of the largest pools of candidates the municipality has ever seen. With voters facing a wide variety of choices, the Herald looks to engage candidates and showcase their responses to the community’s question.
This week, the four candidates for Mayor answered a question regarding the state of healthcare in the Nicola Valley, and the role of the Mayor in addressing it. Their responses, in random order:
This week’s question: What role do you think the Mayor should play in addressing Merritt’s healthcare shortages/ER closures?
Tony Luck, City Councillor (2018-current):
“Firstly, we must recognize that health care is a provincial and federal responsibility. We all agree that the system is in crisis and securing more family doctors and nurses will take time – Premier Horgan has stated there is no quick fix.
Local government’s role is to be a strong advocate for our community. I would start by establishing a Community Wellness Committee composed of citizens and healthcare organizations. Their mandate would be to explore innovative solutions to our situation. We are all competing for the same resources so how can we make Merritt stand out.
I would also work more closely with Interior Health to ensure an open line of communication. It’s important for Mayor and Council to be informed of the actions IH is taking and why an ER closure may be necessary.
We would leave the search for funding to Premier Horgan while Mayor and Council work within the community for changes and solutions to make healthcare more sustainable.”
Linda Brown, Mayor (2018-current):
“Since healthcare is completely out of the city’s jurisdiction, the mayor’s role should be one of advocating for our citizens, where and when we can.
We can do that in numerous ways. As the Mayor, I currently sit on the TNRD board, which means I am appointed to the Thompson Regional Hospital District (TRHD) board. Although this board’s purpose is to review the request for capital equipment, it has also been used as an advocate role for COVID and ER closures.
I have a Masters in Health Planning and Administration and have been a hospital administrator in my past. I understand my role as Mayor and the Hospital’s role in administering their hospital.
Staffing shortages are Canada-wide. The system is broken. It is not unique to our city.
Our country is experiencing the effects of many baby boomers retiring and we are not educating enough doctors or other healthcare professionals at this time. Healthcare is also experiencing increased expectation from the citizens in terms of new technology and new procedures. Demand is stretching the supply of all professions.
Unfortunately, there is no short-term solution, unless we are fortunate enough to have physicians moving to the Merritt area who want to live and work here. Let’s make sure we try to support those who have already made that decision!
In the long term, the Province and/or Interior Health could offer incentives to doctors, open health profession spaces in universities, and review the core skills of each profession.”
Mike Goetz, Former Councillor (2008-2018)
“I think it has become very apparent that the centralized healthcare model has failed miserably. As Mayor, it is time to rally Council as a team and meet with the Minister of Health and continually push for the return of our hospital to a fully functioning unit, this means return of surgery and births in this community as well as full bed compliment. When I moved here in 1977 this hospital was fully functional and needs to be again, waiting 10 to 15 hours in emergency to be seen is no longer acceptable, and people dying waiting for ambulances are also no longer acceptable. People not able to get a physician is also unacceptable. We need to look again and bring in nurse practitioner’s as we have done this in the past. We need to be mindful of our housing issue, to bring people into staff the hospital and work other jobs in this community, they will need somewhere to live. In short, the Mayor needs to play a major role working with the Province to fix these health care issues, and with support of a strong Council it can be done.”
Mike Bhangu, Former Councillor (2018-2021)
“Healthcare is a Provincial responsibility. This said, a Mayor can lobby the B.C Government for the changes required. Merritt is facing a healthcare shortage and I will work with Interior Health, my contacts within the Provincial Government, and the public to address the concern.
On this, I am excellent at lobbying the Government. To successfully persuade decision-makers to move in a given direction is an artform, and I proved my lobbying skills during the 2021 Flood Evacuation. The efforts of myself, and others, persuaded the Provincial Government to do something it had not done before, and the B.C. Government covered the hotel costs Merrittonians incurred during the evacuation.
This election, let’s try something different, and perhaps we’ll see different results. Join me.”
To view the weekly question asked to council and school trustee candidates, along with all of the Herald’s coverage of this election, view the ‘Civic Elections’ tab on the Herald’s website.
The municipal election will take place on October 15, and will see Merrittonians elect one Mayor and six Councillors to a four year term. For more information on the election, visit www.merritt.ca/election22.