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Two new physicians recruited for Port Hardy, but ER remains closed overnight

The two were posted to the town as part of a program where physicians agree to serve in rural and remote communities during their first few years of practice in B.C.

Two new physicians are taking patients in Port Hardy, where the local hospital has been closed overnight for 18 months because of a shortage of staff.

The family doctors, one with seven years’ experience and the other with three decades under his belt, were posted to the Port Hardy Primary Health Care Centre in the north Island earlier this year.

Island Health only announced the arrival of Dr. Ramiz S. Alhadi and Dr. Hadi Awad Hmoud this week, however. Both doctors will work in the Port Hardy Hospital emergency department, which is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Port Hardy Mayor Pat Corbett-Labatt said the town is “very happy” to have two more physicians who are not only taking new patients but working in the ER, making the town less reliant on locums to keep the emergency department open during the day. Locums typically fill in for permanent physicians during vacations and other absences.

“Our hospital is still not open 24/7, which we are not happy about, but we realize that we need more nurses — in particular ER-trained nurses,” said Corbett-Labatt. “We are still advocating for and hopeful that the Port Hardy hospital will be back fully operational.

Port McNeill Hospital, about 40 kilometres from Port Hardy, is the only acute-care hospital emergency department in the region open 24 hours a day.

The two additional doctors brought the total physician head count to seven in Port Hardy, not including temporary locums, according to family physician Dr. Prean Armogam, who has been raising alarm bells about lack of health services in the north Island for years.

Armogam said he’s seeing more drug and alcohol deaths in young adults and preventable deaths in frail seniors due to a lack of primary care and mental health and home care, as well as a lack of urgent care.

“We’re so far away from Victoria that the deaths don’t seem to matter,” said Armogam.

North Vancouver Island has one of the highest rates of toxic-drug deaths in the province, the B.C. Coroners Service said in April.

Alhadi and Hmoud were posted to the town as part of a recruitment and retention program where physicians agree to serve in rural and remote communities during their first few years of practice in B.C.

Alhadi, a graduate of the University of Basrah College of Medicine in Iraq, has been practising medicine since 2017, and joined the team in Port Hardy through the provincial Practice Ready Assessment program, designed to give physicians with independent practice experience a smooth transition into the Canadian health-care system.

Alhadi has extensive experience in primary care, emergency medicine and trauma recovery, said Island Health.

In a statement, Alhadi, who describes himself as an athlete and a car fan, said he is “excited to be part of the team that’s breathing new life into the health care system” in Port Hardy.

Hmoud, who said he enjoys hiking, has practised medicine since 1988, working in Iraq, Yemen, Denmark and Canada, and has expertise in primary care, emergency medicine and surgery, according to Island Health.

Hmoud previously spent time in the north Island with his wife, also a physician, who completed her residency in Port Alice.

“Having spent time in Port Hardy before, I already had a sense of the community’s warmth and resilience,” he said in the statement. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve this community once again.”

The arrival of the two new doctors follows the addition of Dr. Sinan Alkhaleeli to the community in November, according to the health authority.

The physicians work in a team alongside nurse practitioners, nurses, social workers, and medical office assistants.

Island Health said in a statement Thursday that it “remains committed” to resuming 24/7 emergency department services in Port Hardy, and is looking at increasing the hours the emergency department is open.

While the recent addition of the two physicians will help, physician coverage is “not the only limiting factor” to reinstating 24/7 emergency department services, the health authority said.

It said it’s working to recruit and train other clinical staff, including emergency department certified nurses and laboratory staff.

Island Health said residents of Port Hardy and surrounding areas can schedule appointments by calling the Port Hardy Primary Care Centre at 250-902-6008.

It said same-day appointments may be available.

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