Former Wrinch Memorial Hospital advisory committee chairperson Alf Brady and United Church Health Services Society (UCHSS) chairperson Rev. Michael Hare celebrate 115 years of service by UCHSS

Wrinch hospital transfer marks end of an era for United Church

Past and present Wrinch Memorial Hospital staff shared fond memories at an event held when it changed hands in March.

Snippets of the Wrinch Memorial Hospital’s 115-year history came to life on March 31, when past and present staff shared fond memories to mark the end of the United Church Health Services Society’s (UCHSS) long history in the Hazeltons.

Northern Health, which already co-managed the hospital, took over management from the United Church Health Services Society on April 1.

UCHSS announced last September it was handing over the facility because it could not longer afford to run it.

Health workers, senior Northern Health staff, UCHSS board members and volunteers from the outgoing Wrinch advisory committee were among those who gathered in Hazelton to recognize the society’s contribution to local health care.

Hazelton Mayor Alice Maitland, New Hazelton Mayor Gail Lowry and Gitxsan chief Gyatim Galdo’o were also at the event.

A holistic approach

UCHSS chairperson Rev. Michael Hare, United Church of Canada B.C. conference president Rev. Keith Simmonds and executive secretary Rev. Doug Goodwin were among those who addressed the crowd. Rev. Hare, who was born in Hazelton, said one of Wrinch hospital team’s assets was that it knew health care was not just about treating physical symptoms.

“It involves the care of a whole person: physical, spiritual, emotional,” he said.

“In the history of medicine in this province, this story will be told of the leadership provided by folks from this hospital in the development of family practice as a specialty, and the training of residents in remote and isolated communities.”

Outgoing medical director Dr. Peter Newbery, who is retiring with the transfer, and long-time Wrinch physician Dr. Phil Muir performed a skit explaining how Dr. Horace Wrinch founded the hospital.

Dr. Newbery, performing as “Peter Mansbury,” interviewed Dr. Muir, who played Dr. Wrinch, about his vision for the future of health care in the Hazeltons.

Past and present staff then shared humorous anecdotes about the former hospital building, including stories about an unreliable elevator and pranks using the dumbwaiter.

The hospital’s advisory board, hospital auxiliary, community partners, staff and physicians were also recognized at the event.

Northern Health northwest chief operating officer Penny Anguish praised UCHSS for its collaborative approach to the transition.

“There’s lots to figure out yet but we feel like we have established a really good relationship with the staff, that we will figure it out together as things arise,” she said.

The end of an era

UCHSS plans to sell the hospital pharmacy, while the dental clinic will be taken over by Northern Health.

The transition marks the end of an era for the UCHSS, which also had hospitals in Bella Bella and Bella Coola until Vancouver Coastal Health took over in 2003.

UCHSS governing board member Wendy Bily said the church was ready to step away from its former role as a health care provider.

“I think there is a sense of ‘it’s time,’ given the cultural context of the province and government care for health,” she said.

“I think there is some grief about that because it’s been an important part of how the church has seen its mission in ministry from way, way back.”

She said the church was now in discussions about how to redirect its focus.

UCHSS chief executive Mary Jean Morrison said the hospital had always been driven by people who care about their work.

“I feel that there is that wonderful root, from Dr. Wrinch onward, of people being really committed to doing their job and doing it well and I think that will continue,” she said.

“I also know that out of this extended family you have an advocacy group so if they feel that things need to change, improve or do something, they’ll be right there to make sure.”