The Mayor of Grand Forks was able to secure high-level talks with several provincial ministers during the week-long Union of BC Municipalities Convention in Vancouver.
From Sept. 18 to 24, Mayor Everett Baker, along with several councillors and RDKB directors met with Premier David Eby and ministers to meet and talk about best practices, as well as network and speak directly with provincial ministers about concerns and highlights from their regions.
Mayor Baker pointed out in an email about half of this year’s delegates were newly-elected officials from last year’s elections, but the themes of the convention were the same as 2022, with a major focus on challenges around mental health, housing affordability, health-care supports and climate disasters.
When speaking with Premier Eby, Mayor Baker was quick to call Grand Forks a good news story for B.C. and wanted to keep working with the province. He also provided an update on Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund progress and city staff are working closely with the province to secure more funding.
Mayor baker, councillors and RDKB directors also gave updates on the Boundary expansion. Premier Eby asked Boundary-Similkameen MLA Roly Russell to keep him updated on this project as it pertains to housing.
On a negative note, Premier Eby was surprised to find out there hasn’t been much progress on housing for the city.
Grand Forks was able to secure direct meetings with Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, with Baker stating the province had made progress with recent legislation to ban controlled substance use near child-focused areas like playgrounds and skate parks, but more was needed to be done with parks for public safety.
Ministry staff confirmed this was the first step and they would be looking at additional areas as they make progress. Councillor Christine Thompson asked about involuntary care and mandatory rehabilitation, which staff said the Mental Health Act currently has involuntary care provisions but can only be triggered by a physician’s request. There are several other circumstances where a person can be put in secure medical care, but the province and care staff have to apply this with human rights in mind.
Only those considered “incompetent” currently qualify for involuntary care, Ministry staff said. However, those with substance use, addictions or a history of toxic drug poisonings could be considered for secure care, but there is still work being done to modify this.
On Saturday, Baker and delegates had a meeting with Adrian Dix, Minister of Health on the critical issue of recruitment and retention of nurses and doctors. Out of that meeting, Baker said Dix recognized Grand Forks is isolated by its location and there is a need for a working hospital for the area. Baker was quick to point out there had been one emergency room closure already, which was of course concerning and the risk of future closures had to be addressed.
“We are concerned there are systemic issues at the hospital around conditions and culture,” Baker stated.
He requested the parliamentary secretary meet with doctors because they are losing good staff, including the recent resignation of the chief of staff, Dr. Max Liu.
The minister agreed to a virtual meeting and acknowledged the city has challenges attracting doctors and nurses. Grand Forks isn’t alone, Baker said about his conversation. Growth in patients has outpaced new nurses and doctors. Minister Dix said he wanted to know how many doctors have ER privileges in Grand Forks, with the understanding not all doctors can work in that environment because they need special training.
He also indicated the current model of flying people in for locums and to temporarily fill vacancies isn’t working and the health care system in the city had to be built back to full capacity.
Also on the agenda was transportation, specifically the lack of transit since Greyhound and Interior Health decreased service.
Baker said a talk with Minister Rob Fleming, Minister of Transportation focused on an on-call model.
“The Boundary Region is growing and more access to service is needed,” he said.
They also discussed the west end and concerns over growing “pinch points” with Highway 3 that will need to be reviewed.
Minister Fleming said BC Transit and the Ministry of Transportation staff should come to the city to review the current model and discuss solutions to expand services. He was also open to a two-to-one province-to-local government funding model for services.