Looking back on his professional career in Powell River as an internist, doctor Blake Hoffert can point to a significant contribution to the overall health care of the community. Hoffert was instrumental in establishing Powell River General Hospital Oncology Clinic, a Community Oncology Clinic of the BC Cancer Agency, which opened in May of 1997.
Hoffert said when he arrived in 1995, chemotherapy treatment was administered in a small eight-foot by six-foot room inside the hospital’s emergency department.
“Looking at that situation with an oncologist coming up every four to six weeks from Vancouver, I just felt I couldn’t responsibly accept that,” said Hoffert, “so I talked to the cancer agency and with their help we set up an official clinic here.”
Hoffert was director of the clinic from that time until his retirement this year.
Now that he is free to speak his mind, Hoffert said he was often at odds with the bureaucracy related to health care. He said on numerous occasions patients were unable to receive much-needed drugs.
Hoffert went out of his way to find treatments, he said, including calling people in England to have drugs sent here, and he spent a lot of time behind the scenes trying to gain compassionate access to drugs, going directly to drug companies and generally receiving what he wanted for free.
“One of the chemos I got for free for a patient was $125,000 in four doses,” he said.
Hoffert said he will miss the work, but at the same time the stresses of taking care of patients in life-and-death situations weighs heavily.
“Dealing with the fact that a number of my patients unfortunately didn’t survive the experience is always hard to deal with,” he said.
Over the last 10 years, a deterioration in health care has been dramatic and significant, particularly for cancer patients, according to Hoffert.
“I must admit that one of the frustrations with the job was just trying to work with the system, which is strapped by cost-containment and bureaucrats,” he said. “People’s health was determined by how much the system could pay, as opposed to what care they needed.”
Bringing better cancer treatment to Powell River was not the first time Hoffert acted as an active and aggressive advocate for his patients.
He had been a thorn in the side of the system before arriving from Ottawa, where one of his roles was training residents and interns at the National Defence Medical Centre. While there, Canadian Armed Forces began downsizing the centre and stopped treating veterans, their dependents and families.
“I felt the military was abandoning those patients, particularly the vets, and I just didn’t feel comfortable continuing in that environment,” said Hoffert, “so I said, ‘That’s it, if patient care doesn’t come first, then I’m not interested in working with this organization.’ So I quit.”
Hoffert came west to BC and was offered a position in Powell River. He joined Andy Davis as the second internist at the hospital and found a home that affords the personal and professional balance that attracts so many people to the region.
Hoffert also wanted to get back into sailing and now serves as commodore for Powell River Yacht Club.
“Sailing is a beautiful experience; you’re out there with just the elements and the wind and moving in two dimensions wherever you want to go,” said Hoffert. “I’ve cruised in the South Pacific and sailed my boat up from Buenos Aires in Argentina. It’s enjoyable to be on the water, particularly in this environment.”