The front entrance of West Coast General Hospital features a roundabout and a garden. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

The front entrance of West Coast General Hospital features a roundabout and a garden. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

PROGRESS 2021: West Coast General Hospital sees changing of the guard

New doctors are establishing practices in Port Alberni

This story is part of our Progress 2021 publication. You can read the special edition in its entirety on our website.

A shift is happening in the healthcare field in Port Alberni. Over the past two years a number of new, younger doctors have moved to the Alberni Valley, many of them taking over from retiring medical professionals.

This bodes well for the community, says Dr. Dorothy (Sam) Williams, chief of staff and site medical director for West Coast General Hospital.

Last August Dr. James Williams joined the emergency department. His speciality is anesthesiology. Williams is First Nations, coming from the Kwanlin Dun First Nation in Yukon Territory.

Husband and wife team Dr. Matthew Marsay and Dr. Anienne Marsay moved to Port Alberni last summer to take over a family practice from a retiring doctor. They moved here from Medicine Hat, Alta., where they saw 11,000 patients between their two practices.

READ: B.C. health ministry commits $6.25M to hospital expansion in Port Alberni

Doctor Amandeep Nandra is a family physician who moved to Port Alberni last year following her residency at the University of B.C. and worked in the walk-in clinic With Dr. Damien White at the West Coast Urgent Care clinic on Maple Way. Her plans are to be here for two years, and she hopes once she moves on that someone else will come in to take over from her.

With the retirement of surgeon Dr. James Ferguson after 35 years in July 2020, hospital officials realized they needed to replace both the skills and experience they lost. Doctors Jan Klompje and Matt Hudson joined the WCGH surgical team, bringing experience (Dr. Klompje) and youth (Dr. Hudson).

“Over the past year we have had Dr. Kristine Woodley join us,” Williams added. Woodley has opened a private practice in town and is also a palliative care doctor.

READ: PROGRESS 2018: West Coast General Hospital brings technology to ER

The arrival of a new group of doctors signals a shift happening in the Alberni Valley, says Williams. “In my mind we’re really in a transition, a changing of the guard. A lot of physicians like myself…we need to be thinking of the next generation of doctors coming in.”

More recruitment is happening behind the scenes as medical professionals determine what needs are priorities. “We are very grateful for the work that has been done by Divisions of Family Practice.”

Divisions of Family Practice offers physician and patient support including recruitment of new doctors as well as a host of other initiatives.

Island Health announced in January 2021 a long-awaited expansion of the emergency department. The $6.25-million project, which has been on hold since 2015, will include a 244-square-metre (2,626-square-foot) expansion as well as improvements to the existing space.

While the new doctors coming into the community is a good sign, “we do need more doctors in Port Alberni,” Williams said.

“Whoever we can bring in, we’re going to bring in.”

Watch upcoming issues of the Alberni Valley News for a series of articles on the changing of the guard with Port Alberni’s doctors.

Alberni-Clayoquot Regional DistrictHealth and wellnessPort Alberni