A few weeks before historic local elections, four hopeful mayoral candidates are running for the first seat in City Hall. Together with eighteen council candidates, they form one of the largest pools of candidates the community has ever seen. With voters faced with a multitude of choices, the Herald seeks to engage candidates and present their answers to the community’s question.
This week, the four mayoral candidates answered a question about the state of healthcare in the Nicola Valley and the mayor’s role in addressing this issue. Your answers in random order:
This week’s question: What role do you think the mayor should play in managing Merritt’s health shortages/ER closures?
Tony Luck, City Council (since 2018):
“First, we must recognize that healthcare is a provincial and federal responsibility. We all agree the system is in crisis and finding more GPs and nurses will take time – Premier Horgan has said 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 made up of citizens and health organizations. Your job would be to find innovative solutions to our situation. We’re all competing for the same resources, so how can we single out Merritt?
I would also work more closely with Interior Health to ensure open communication. It is important that the Mayor and Council are 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 the Mayor and Council work within the community on changes and solutions to make healthcare more sustainable.”
Linda Brown, Mayor (since 2018):
“Because healthcare is entirely outside the city’s jurisdiction, the mayor’s role should be to advocate for our citizens where and when we can.
We can do this in a variety of ways. As mayor, I currently serve on the board of directors of the TNRD, which means I have been appointed to the board of directors of the Thompson Regional Hospital District (TRHD). Although the purpose of this panel is to review the application for capital goods, it has also been used as an advocate for COVID and ER closures.
I have a Masters in Healthcare Planning and Administration and have been a Hospital Administrator in my past. I understand my role as mayor and the hospital’s role in managing their hospital.
There is a staff shortage across Canada. The system is broken. It’s not unique to our city.
Our country is suffering the effects of many baby boomers retiring and we are not currently training enough doctors or other medical professionals. Healthcare is also experiencing increased citizen expectations of new technologies and new procedures. Demand expands the supply of all professions.
Unfortunately there is no short term solution unless we are fortunate enough to have doctors move to the Merritt area who want to live and work here. Let’s make sure we try to support those who have already made this decision!
In the longer term, the province and/or internal health could provide incentives for physicians to open health professions at universities and review the core competencies of each profession.”
Mike Goetz, Former City Councilman (2008-2018)
“I think it has become very apparent that the centralized healthcare model has failed miserably. As Mayor it is time to gather the Council as a team and meet with the Minister of Health and continually push for the return of our hospital to a fully functioning entity, this means the return of surgeries and births in this community as well as a compliment for full beds . When I moved here in 1977 this hospital was fully operational and needs to be operational again, waiting 10-15 hours in an emergency to be seen is no longer acceptable and people dying waiting for ambulances are no more either acceptable. People who cannot get a doctor are also unacceptable. We need to look again and call in nurses as we have done in the past. We have to pay attention to our housing problem, to take people to the hospital and do other jobs in this community, they will need housing. In short, the mayor has an important role to play in working with the province to resolve these health issues, and with the support of a strong council, this can happen.”
Mike Bhangu, Former Councilman (2018-2021)
“Health care is a state responsibility. However, a mayor can lobby the BC government to make the changes needed. Merritt is facing a health care shortage and I will be working with Interior Health, my contacts within the provincial government and the public to address the concerns.
In that regard, I’m excellent at lobbying the government. Successfully persuading decision makers to move in a certain direction is an art form and I demonstrated my lobbying skills during the 2021 flood evacuation. The efforts of myself and others convinced the provincial government to do something they had never done before, and the BC government paid for the hotel expenses incurred by the Merritttonians during the evacuation.
Let’s try something different in this election, and maybe we’ll see different results. Accompany me.”
To view the weekly question posed to Council and School Administrator candidates, along with all of The Herald’s coverage of this election, visit the Citizens’ Elections tab on the Herald’s website.
Local elections will be held on October 15 and Merritttonians will elect a mayor and six councilors to four-year terms. For more information on the election, visit www.merritt.ca/election22.