Underpaid doctors leaving

Politicians in the Oliver area have again raised concerns of unfair wages for physicians at the South Okanagan General Hospital, saying many are leaving for higher wages in Penticton.

Rural Oliver director Terry Schafer and Oliver councillor Petra Veintimilla both spoke up on the topic during a discussion Thursday at the Okanagan Similkameen Regional Hospital District meeting. 

"Is it really fair that the Oliver hospital keeps losing ER physicians to Penticton for higher pay?" Schafer said.

"There isn't a problem with recruitment, (SOGH) has the highest numbers that we've had in 10 years. There's a problem with retention," Veintimilla said. "And it's almost 100 per cent due to pay difference between Oliver and Penticton. And that comes from doctors working in that department."

Penticton councillor Judy Sentes, vice-chair of the OSRHD, said conversations on the issue have taken place with Interior Health, noting the health authority is reluctant to address the issue.

"(IH) deflects that to the Ministry of Health, because the doctors are negotiating on an individual basis with them. So (IH) says they have no influence."

Peter Entwistle, former chief of staff at SOGH who resigned in protest in the spring of 2017, said the problem with physician wages at the hospital has existed for a long time and that "no one's looking to address it."

He said physicians in Oliver are being paid "significantly less" than those in Penticton and said they're working harder.

"There's only one physician at any one time, and there's less support staff [at SOGH]. So it tends to be harder work," Entwistle said. "We're forever losing physicians from Oliver to Penticton as quickly as we recruit people... and you can't blame the doctors for doing that."

"And then similarly, you get paid more for working in the office than you do working in emergency. So again it doesn't make sense."

He added the pay-scale issue also creates a staffing shortage which has led to regular overnight closures of the hospital's ER department.

Veintimilla proposed to the board that the OSRHD should include the wage discrepancy issue when it meets with Interior Health on Oct. 30, a bi-annual meeting between the two sides to discuss regional issues. It's not yet clear if the topic will be addressed.

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