Not a silver bullet, but a step in the right direction for beleaguered South Okanagan General Hospital

Seeking solutions to ER

Solutions may be on the near horizon for the ongoing closures at the South Okanagan General Hospital (SOGH) emergency department as Health Minister Adrian Dix says the Alternative Payment Program (APP) for physicians has been approved.

The issue of emergency department closures at SOGH due to limited physician availability has forced people to go to Penticton to receive emergency care on some nights, has been plaguing the hospital for months with multiple closures some weeks.

The issue was a central topic that the Towns of Oliver and Osoyoos brought to their meeting with the Ministry of Health at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) Convention last week in Vancouver.

Because the two towns had back-to-back meetings with Dix and their interests clearly align, both towns went into the meeting as one delegation. They were also joined by Dr. Tarinder Grewal ER Department Head at South Okanagan General Hospital (SOGH).

Mayor of Oliver Martin Johansen explained that the meeting with the Ministry of Health was the highlight of the convention for him as they were trying to get the APP moving along for the physicians working out of that hospital.

Even though the ministry told the towns that the plan had been approved, there is still work that needs to be done in getting that laid out and presented to the physicians to get it officially signed off and approved.

“Minister Dix assured us that the Alternative Payment Plan (APP) had been approved which is a good thing,” commented Osoyoos Mayor Sue McKortoff. But she notes the delegations from Oliver and Osoyoos had a number of questions around it but noted that Dr. Grewal indicated that in conversations she has had with the doctors, “most of them” are willing to come back and do emergency shifts, but want some guarantee that this is this is going to work.

The dire situation at SOGH largely stems from the fact that the shortfall in doctors was being picked up by doctors doing extra shifts out of Penticton but for less pay than they would get in Penticton. This is part of the aim of the APP which offers an alternative to the traditional “Fee for Service” model.

Osoyoos Councillor Zach Poturica noted that Dix said that since the APP has been introduced the percentage of doctors using the traditional Fee for Service model dropped to just 20 per cent.

“To me, it doesn’t sound like the answer for every doctor but at least it’s on the table now. I think the province is finally committed to helping alleviate that now, it rests in Interior Health’s hands now but it's definitely promising,” Poturica said.

Even though this is good news in addressing the ongoing problems at the hospital, Johansen knows that more needs to be done.

“I don't believe it's the silver bullet, but I do believe it is a step in the right direction and something that we'll be able to build on and if anything that provides a certain level of stability moving forward. I can say we will build on that,” he explained.

Johansen continued to say that when it comes to this type of issue, “everything is connected. That's why there's no one silver bullet. There's a little bit of help here. A little bit of help there. At the end of the day, we need more people working in healthcare, and that's going to go a long way to solving a lot of the problems.”

This multipronged approach for Johansen has to include competitive wages, different ways to attract people to the community, having the housing to house these people that want to come and work in the community, and making an impact early on in education.

They did have a meeting with the Ministry of Secondary Education and Future Skills. Johansen explained that this conversation touched on the loan forgiveness program for registered nurses that is currently not available to Oliver.

Johansen suggested it may help to have a sliding scale for how much funding you would get, instead of a yes or no acceptance. He gave the example that it would help if instead of getting zero forgiveness “maybe you get 75 per cent.”

The other main area that was discussed as another side of this issue was engaging the South Okanagan Secondary School and Osoyoos Secondary School. “Having students there have access to some sort of lived experience or work experience at the hospital, so they could get exposure to nursing. Working in the lab working in X-ray and helping them move along to careers in health care if they're so interested.”

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