Alberni family fights for more CT scan hours at WCGH

A Port Alberni family wants a constantly staffed CT scan machine at WCGH and VIHA says a solution is on the way.

A tragedy suffered by a Port Alberni family has prompted them to lobby for the CT scanner at West Coast General Hospital to be staffed full time.

Melissa Netzer, whose mother died in June, made the appeal to Port Alberni city council at their Monday meeting.

According to Netzer, her mother Linda McLaren, 59, was suffering from chest pain when she was admitted to West Coast General Hospital in the early evening of June 6.

Doctors stabilized McLaren and while a heart attack was ruled out, a ruptured embolism was suspected.

No CT scan was available as it was after work hours. The soonest she was able to get one was the next day in Nanaimo.

Computed Tomography (CT), also known as CAT scan, is a medical imaging test that employs special x-ray equipment along with computers to generate a cross-sectional image of the inside of the body.

McLaren wasn’t in any condition to be airlifted to Nanaimo so medical officials started transporting her there by ambulance.

McLaren didn’t make it though, and died minutes later by the roadside.

If a CT scanner was immediately available at WCGH then McLaren may have been treated sooner, Netzer said.

“I don’t know if she would have survived but her chances would have been better,” Netzer told council.

Port Alberni has a rising population of seniors and an active sports sector, therefore it only makes sense that a CT scanner be available 24 hours, seven days a week, Netzer said.

The four-hour period after an embolism has occurred is critical, Netzer said, “or irreversible damage to speech and mobility can occur.”

Netzer and her sister, who was also present, work in the medical field.

Port Alberni’s CT scanner is operational four days a week, from 9 a.m. to 3:40 p.m.

According to Netzer’s research, Port Alberni is the only community its size with an emergency department that has no CT scanner that is manned 24-7.

Comox and Saanich have roughly the same population as Port Alberni, and Nelson, B.C. has fewer people, yet all have a fully funded and staffed CT scanner.

As an option, Netzer prompted council and the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District to add a new $100 fee to residential tax bills to underwrite staffing a CT scanner.

With 16,000 to 17,000 residential parcels that equates to $850,000 per year based on a $50 fee, and $1.7 million based on a $100 fee, Netzer said.

Council decided to refer the matter to the ACRD community health network, as well as to write a letter to the Vancouver Island Health Authority outlining the concern.

A CT scan initiative is already underway at WCGH, VIHA spokesperson Jocelyn Stanton said.

Currently, there is one CT scan technician at WCGH who is backed up by a technician from Nanaimo.

But X-ray technicians at WCGH have begun training to perform basic CT scans, and can perform urgent scans after hours once their training is complete.

One technician is trained and another is being trained, VIHA spokesperson Val Wilson said. “They hope to have three or four more in the future.”

reporter@albernivalleynews.com