RDOS hospital board having trouble deciding whether to fund recruitment for doctors, primary care centres

Torn over new doctors

The Okanagan Similkameen Regional Hospital Board can't seem to make a decision about whether to get into the business of funding primary care clinics and recruiting family physicians. 

At Thursday's meeting, CAO Bill Newell asked the board for a final answer to what he termed an "ongoing dialogue" for two years, ever since the board first identified a lack of primary physicians as a major problem in the region's communities. 

RDOS staff have been working with the South Okanagan Similkameen Divisions of Family Practice for guidance and advice about how physician recruitment might work, but the board has yet to make a formal decision to move forward. 

The board voted back in February to push the issue to a later date, following an impassioned plea from local doctors for help providing attractive practice spaces for physicians to address a growing need in many communities.

“Decide if you want to do it, if you do we will find a way to do it,” Newell said Thursday.

It would be a "philosophical shift" for the board, Newell noted, given that currently the board does not actively recruit doctors or go beyond providing their portion for Interior Health Authority projects. 

Seeking to attract physicians and getting into the business of primary care locations would likely involve raising property taxes in the RDOS, he added, a concept that caused some on the board to balk. 

"I don't know that the timing is good to be asking for additional tax dollars," said Director Campbell Watt of Penticton. 

Director Rick Knodel of rural Oliver agreed, and suggested deferring the decision for "at least two years" in light of the ongoing pandemic. 

"Of all the professions in the world right now the one that will change the most is healthcare, and we may see a dramatic change in how physicians view their job 18 months from now," he said. 

But a delay didn't sit well with Oliver Mayor Martin Johansen.

"We’re struggling in Oliver, we’ve lost three doctors and possibly four ... it's affecting everybody so we can either put our heads in the sand or investigate [solutions]," he said, pointing out that South Okanagan General Hospital services more than just town residents. 

"Don’t think of it as an Oliver problem. It’s a South Okanagan problem that’s going to affect a huge number of people."

Kaleden/Apex director Subrina Monteith backed Johansen, saying the RDOS and its hospital board work best when the areas work together, rather than each community thinking only of themselves.

More directors expressed an interest in contributing to the discussion, but the clock was running out on the allotted time for the meeting. 

"I’m reluctant to defer this yet again, because it has ben years now in the making,” said hospital board chair Judy Sentes. 

But ultimately, the board voted to reconvene the discussion at the next meeting, Jan. 7, 2021. 

“We clearly need more time to get through this,” RDOS board chair Karla Kozakevich said.

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