Medical Care in Noto: Restore Hospital Functions with Eye toward The Future

Medical care services in the northern part of the Noto Peninsula are in critical condition. The major earthquake on Jan. 1 aggravated a longstanding situation in which the ability to maintain hospital functions has been under severe strain due to local population decline and aging.

First of all, there is an urgent need to rebuild the medical system for the present. At the same time, it is necessary to provide medical care that suits the actual local situation, such as through hospital reorganization.

After the earthquake, four public hospitals — in the cities of Wajima and Suzu plus two towns — suffered equipment damage and water shortages, and many disaster-stricken employees were unable to come to work, making it difficult to continue treatment. As a result, many of the inpatients had to be transferred to different hospitals in Kanazawa and elsewhere.

The four hospitals have already resumed medical care services, but there are concerns about the maintenance of the medical system as a number of nurses left their jobs due to effects of the disaster. By the end of March, a total of 60 or more nurses are expected to have resigned.

If adequate medical care services cannot be provided, inpatients who were transferred to Kanazawa and other places, as well as elderly people and others who evacuated outside the disaster areas, will not be able to return to their hometowns. It is essential to take measures to prevent more nurses from leaving their jobs and also to secure new personnel.

Even among nurses who have remained in their hometowns, there likely are those who have problems with housing, childcare and other issues. It will be important for local governments and hospitals to provide counseling and expanded support for them.

When the Ishikawa Prefecture nurses association recruited nurses from all over Japan to work at hospitals in the affected areas for a certain period of time, it received at least 40 applications. It is hoped that motivated personnel will be fully utilized.

In addition to the four hospitals, it is also important to restore clinics close to the affected areas. There were not many clinics to begin with, and some of them have scaled back their services. Some doctors are using special shipping containers equipped with medical devices instead of examination rooms because their clinic buildings were damaged.

Such medical containers were used as temporary clinics for a long time in areas affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. They have the advantage of being transportable to wherever they are needed, and may continue to be useful for medical care in depopulated areas nationwide.

It is also vital to create a system that allows patients to receive medical care services without having to visit hospitals by expanding online medical treatment.

The population of the northern Noto Peninsula has been declining significantly for some time, with those aged 65 or older accounting for 50% of the total there. It will not be easy for each of the four hospitals to secure sufficient human resources and continue to operate in the future. Consolidating the functions of the hospitals, such as by integrating them, is an issue that should be considered.

However, a situation must be avoided in which residents cannot consult a doctor when they need one. One option is to keep medical institutions with downsized operations in each area, while concentrating the functions of major hospitals in one location.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 22, 2024)