East Kootenay Regional Hospital in Cranbrook. Google maps photo

Regional Health board pushes for radiation therapy in East Kootenay

Patients that need radiation therapy need to travel to Kelowna for much-needed medical care

The Kootenay East Regional Hospital District (KERHD) is pushing for radiation therapy to be added to services offered by the East Kootenay Regional Hospital.

According to the board vice chair, Sparwood Mayor David Wilks, the distances that patients in the area needed to travel to receive radiation therapy were not ideal.

“I know its a big ticket item, but the reality is we have nothing. We can’t go to Alberta now – so we’re forced to go to Kelowna or Vancouver, and that’s a long way to go if your radiation treatments are five minutes (a session).”

Radiation therapy used high doses of radiation to treat cancer by killing cancer cells and shrinking tumors. The treatment requires high-tech medical devices and highly-trained medical professionals known as radiation oncologists.

Wilks said that by expanding the offering in Cranbrook, patients from all of East Kootenay and maybe even all of the Kootenays would be able to avoid long cross-provincial drives for such short sessions (while already being unwell), and also reduce the pressure on services offered in Vancouver and Kelowna.

“We’ve had discussions for the past year or two with some doctors that are in the field … and I’ll keep pushing on it because I believe it’s something that makes sense, and at some point in time I believe Cranbrook will get it because it will just be by sheer demand.”

Wilks, who said that he and the chair of the KERHD board, Elkford Mayor Dean McKerracher would be having further meetings with IH and the province soon in order to come up with some ways forward.

“Everyone recognises this is a cost issue – we understand that, but we want to work with the IH and the province. (The KERHD) pay 40 percent of all capital costs of all projects within our Kootenay East Regional Hospital district- so if we were to say we’ll save up money and put additional funds towards radiation, maybe we could do it.”

Barriers beyond cost of opening up services in the region to include radiation therapy include staffing issues – but Wilks said that that was a bridge that they could try to cross should the KERHD board prove successful in furthering their campaign.

The East Kootenay Regional Hospital is the best-equipped hospital in the East Kootenay region, with a wide array of specialized care including chemotherapy, but for further care such as radiation therapy, within Interior Health patients are referred to Kelowna or Kamloops.

The Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) is currently a major funding partner with Angel Flight East Kootenay, which is a medical transport not-for-profit that gives medical patients with urgent (but not emergency) flights to much-needed medical care in Kelowna for free. The RDEK recently voted to assist the organisation in acquiring a more capable airplane by providing $500,000 over five years.

READ MORE: Elkford, Sparwood aim to showcase area to entice doctors into communities

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