British Columbia’s southern Interior has some of the highest rates of accidental deaths in the province, according to a Kootenay physician’s association. And one Nelson emergency doctor thinks the Kootenay Boundary region may be even deadlier.
The Interior Health Authority (IHA) region, which comprises most of southern B.C. outside the Lower Mainland, sees 57 per cent of B.C.’s winter activity deaths, 37 per cent of recreational ATV deaths, 34.5 per cent of accidental drownings, and 30 per cent of motor vehicle deaths, according to Dr. Nic Sparrow of the Kootenay Emergency Response Physicians Association (KERPA).
“I was a little shocked,” Sparrow said. “I knew it was high but not quite how high.”
KERPA researcher Dr. Heather Strong tallied the numbers from data that is publicly available from ICBC and the B.C. Coroners Service.
There are currently no geographic stats available for accidental deaths in the Kootenay Boundary region, which is within the IHA. So KERPA is creating an interactive accidental death geomap for the region.
Sparrow hopes it will illuminate where and why people are dying in the Kootenay Boundary, and how accidents can be avoided.
He said he got the idea from frogs.
An online geomap documents the recovery of the endangered Rocky Mountain Tailed Frog.
“I saw that map and thought, ‘How we are going to do this for human deaths?’ If we can map for an endangered frog, we can do it for people.”
Sparrow is well known for his work assisting emergency personnel in the Nelson area. He said he’s responded to about 300 911 calls in the past five years. That’s in addition to his full-time job in the emergency ward at Kootenay Lake General Hospital.
The map-in-progess charts deaths by motor vehicle, drowning, and recreational activities.
KERPA is working with a group of Selkirk College nursing and rural pre-medicine students to continuously update the map with deaths that have been reported in the media or are otherwise in the public domain.
Clicking on the icon for any accident on the map will link to a news article or other documentation of the accident.
Sparrow says he already sees one pattern emerging on the map.
“I have responded to a number of accidents in the same area, specifically [on Highway 3A at] the bluffs in the Beasley area. People are dying there on a regular basis. They are small numbers but small numbers make big numbers eventually.”
KERPA’s map shows seven deaths on or near the highway between Castlegar and Nelson since 2013. But Sparrow says there have been more than that. He says the map is incomplete, a work in progress with more data still to be added.
He also said the Kootenay Boundary does not have the same level of pre-hospital care as many other areas.
“We don’t have rapid access to a helicopter. To get a helicopter to fly into this region often takes a minimum of a 60-minute flight time from Kamloops.”
He added that the Kootenay Boundary region only has a level-two trauma centre in Trail — as opposed to the superior level-one in Kelowna — and that the time between a 911 call and an accident victim reaching a surgeon can be very lengthy. Additionally, there is only one critical care paramedic in the entire region.
“Most American trauma units are talking about the ‘golden hour,’ and we are lucky if we can even get the patient to the hospital within that hour, sometimes two or three hours, and sometimes that is not a hospital with a surgeon,” he said.
“If this map helps us prevent trauma deaths and helps emergency responders act and treat patients more effectively, we will have fulfilled our goal.”