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Vancouver Island doctor calls for resignation of Island Health leader amid health-care 'crisis'

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An emergency room doctor on Vancouver Island is calling on the leadership of the health authority to resign, saying harassment by Island Health officials is prompting doctors to abandon the region amid a critical shortage of health-care workers.

Dr. Alex Nataros will be the only emergency doctor working in Port Hardy, B.C., by the end of June, once the resignations of two of his colleagues are finalized.

"My own experience for the past two weeks is continued harassment by the health authority leadership," Nataros told Victoria's CFAX 1070 on Friday.

"That is leading to us hemorrhaging doctors from the North Island and leading to the crisis that we're facing now and into the future," he added. "As a result of this I'm calling for the resignation of the chief medical officer of Island Health, Dr. Ben Williams."

The emergency room doctor said one of his colleagues who plans to resign in the coming months asked Nataros to share his reasons for leaving his post.

Specifically, the doctor complained of "poor treatment at the hands of the health authority and health authority leadership," according to Nataros, as well as "lost income because of health authority negligence and threat to patient care."

Williams responded to the doctor's comments in an emailed statement to CTV News, saying he takes the allegations with "great concern," but is unable to comment directly on the matter due to his responsibility to the health authority.

'THE ADMINISTRATION IS PATHETIC'

Dr. Prean Armogam, a family clinician in the northern Vancouver Island town of Port McNeill, B.C., says the complaints raised by Nataros are shared by doctors across the region.

Armogam, who has been practising medicine in Port McNeill for 17 years, told CTV News on Friday that North Island doctors are united in their desire for a change in leadership at Island Health.

"The problem with Ben Williams and the executive medical leadership is that they're not present," Armogam said.

"Decisions continue to be made without consulting with people on the ground, people who are frontline, like Alex and myself and the doctors who have been here all these years."

Last week the B.C. Health Ministry said "significant efforts" were underway to improve access to health care on the North Island, while announcing that two emergency rooms in Port Hardy and Alert Bay would be closed overnight for the foreseeable future.

Defending the announcement on Friday, Williams said the health authority "remains committed to the initiatives announced last week, and to work in collaboration with our many partners – including physicians – to stabilize and improve the reliability of health care services in the region."

Doctors of BC, a voluntary association of 14,000 physicians, residents and medical students in B.C., released its annual membership survey Wednesday, showing Vancouver Island health-care workers reported the lowest level of satisfaction with their health authority in the province.

Forty per cent of respondents in the Island Health region said they were satisfied with practising medicine in the region in 2022, compared to a provincial average satisfaction rate of 50 per cent.

Chief among the complaints from Island Health practitioners were a lack of transparency and clear communication from Island Health decision-makers.

"We are not likely to be successful if we have the current leadership," Armogam said. "The administration is pathetic. The local administration and senior leadership has been so broken."

"We cannot function with the current leadership model," he added. "Changes need to happen for us to be set up for success otherwise it's hopeless."

According to the survey, more than half of Island Health respondents reported experiencing a "psychological safety incident" over the past 12 months, while 35 per cent reported at least one threat to their physical safety.

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