Staffing ER for election time?

UPDATE: 5:53 p.m.

Interior Health has provided further comment on the money paid to doctors brought in to cover scheduling gaps at the South Okanagan General Hospital.

"A standard physician compensation policy is being followed for the physicians who are providing coverage on a locum basis at SOGH. This policy applies across IH," an IH spokesperson said. "Claims that locum physicians are being paid a bonus at SOGH beyond payment for the services they are providing are inaccurate."

ORIGINAL: 5 a.m.

The South Okanagan General Hospital's former top doctor is sounding the alarm about doctors who he says are being paid an extra $1,000 to come in from out of town to keep the hospital's emergency room open during the election period.

Dr. Peter Entwistle, who stepped down as SOGH's chief of staff last month to protest a potential removal of physical beds, says the plan to bring in doctors from the outside with extra pay doesn't extend beyond May. That, he says, is too coincidental with the current election and health care as a major issue in the Boundary-Similkameen riding.

"If this is a coherent plan to properly pay the emergency positions for Interior Health to take responsibility for staffing the emergency departments and maintaining 24-hour, seven-day-a-week cover, then I think we're all supportive of that," Entwistle said. "It's just that Interior Health hasn't done that for the past five years up until it became an election issue, and they're only doing it briefly for the election period."

Entwistle says he's heard from a "different sources" that Interior Health is shelling out an extra $1,000 or so to convince doctors to come in from out of town to work at the hospital.

That bonus is because, according to Entwistle, Oliver's ER pays less than others in the area. That would mean a pay cut for any doctor working in the SOGH ER. To even things out for doctors coming from out of town, Interior Health is reportedly providing that bonus.

But until recently, Entwistle says Interior Health has threatened to close down the emergency department if doctors didn't step up to fill scheduling gaps. That's a threat he says was acted on last year, when the ER was closed for a couple of nights.

"I believe on those nights, actually, physicians came and stayed at the hospital just in case something went wrong," he said. "It's disrespectful to doctors who have worked hard for the past few years to maintain the service," Entwistle added on the sudden about-face.

"This year, it's not been possible to provide cover, and the only difference is that, now it's in the election period, suddenly Interior Health has found the money. But six weeks ago when I did a 24-hour shift and was promised help, but it didn't come, they couldn't find money to get anybody else."

After the current plan to staff the ER runs its course in May, Entwistle says Interior Health claims it will put in place a new plan, but no details of that plan have surfaced, yet.

Castanet reached out to Interior Health for comment, but the health authority has said it won't comment on the matter at this time.

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