Call for help building South Okanagan family doctor practices

Family practice 'dying'

A pair of South Okanagan advocates for more family doctors in the region presented a plea for help to the Okanagan Similkameen Regional Hospital District Thursday. 

Dr. Tim Phillips, co-chair, and Tracy St. Claire, CEO, with the SOS Division of Family Practice presented a plaintive call to become a partner in their vision for encouraging and building family practices in the region. 

"Family practice as we knew it 20 years ago is dying,” Phillips said, explaining that the traditional model of groups of doctors buying and running their own spaces is no longer feasible. 

"Part of [fixing that] is taking the business portion away from them so they don’t have to worry about that and can practice medicine, part of that is providing space for them to practice medicine."

The division, announced in April, is working on procuring spaces in various South Okanagan communities, including their first success in November with the opening of the Ponderosa Primary Care Centre in Penticton.

That location is the first team-based centre in the region and while the hope is the model will attract doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers, there is a long way to go. 

"It's not enough," said St. Claire. "There are still about 15,000 patients that are looking for a family medicine provider right now."

They say progress isn't happening fast enough, especially in smaller communities where need is high and procurement of a suitable building to house a practice going through government avenues is not simple. 

"A traditional procurement process could take 10 years and I don’t think we have 10 years,” St. Claire said.

The plan is to build partnerships with various regional governments and organizations while seeking to become a registered charity, all in the hope of speeding up the process of getting new family practices up and running. 

The team is looking for the OSRHD to join on as one of those potential partners. 

Board members seemed receptive to discussing the issue.

"Do we feel that our funds should go there knowing that having the clinics fully functioning, serving our residents, creates a happier population and the physicians that are working in our hospital and all these sorts of things," said OSRHD chair Petra Veintimilla. "Do we view that as something we should be a part of?"

The board will discuss further and determine how and if to provide financial help to the division at a later date. 

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