The South Okanagan is facing a health care crisis as family doctors continue to leave and retire, leaving thousands without a replacement or an option to see a physician.
Oliver Mayor Martin Johansen and Osoyoos Mayor Sue McKortoff are working to tackle the issue, recently meeting with the B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and MLA Roly Russell.
“I'm concerned about it for sure. Actually, my doctor is leaving. So I now after a long time do not have a family doctor. I understand why the doctors are choosing not to continue in family practice, as much as I don't like it,” McKortoff said.
“Our unattached Patient List has gone up significantly, probably close to 5000 people in the South Okanagan without doctors now,” Johansen said. “I think the big nugget for the province is the lack of physicians in longitudinal healthcare, doing family practice and physicians that are leaving that type of health care and being able to replace them.”
The area faces a lack of locum physicians, putting family doctors in a situation where they can’t take a vacation or any time off. Osoyoos and Oliver also share the emergency sector at the South Okanagan General Hospital.
“It requires them to look after their patients 24/7 and that's a huge commitment that not every doctor wants to do…We can't get doctors to come and take over that type of practice anymore. It's just not what they want. They'd rather have time off to spend with their kids and go on holiday. And everybody wants that, so why should they be any different?” McKortoff said.
Johansen pushed to have a face-to-face with Dix to talk about health care in the South Okanagan recently and express their concerns about the challenges.
“The request for him was that we just wanted to come up with solutions and be able to work collaboratively with our healthcare partners,” he said.
“We're dealing with a potential collapse of our healthcare system. If we lose too many more doctors down there, the emergency department, which is supposed to be an emergency department, now becomes more of a walk-in clinic. And that's not sustainable at the end of the day, either.”
Johansen said that he’s hearing from the province that the system is broken, and it needs a major overhaul.
“You can't just throw money at this thing, because you'll create another problem over here.”
McKortoff noted that this issue is going to take a collaborative effort to fix.
“Right now, we think we need help from the ministry, and just to see if we can work out something that makes sense for our area. [Asking] are you agreeable to allowing us to do a little bit of flexible funding and flexible scheduling. So Minister Dix did say that he was planning to come up here this summer, and we're ready.”
The mayors said they have been meeting weekly with the doctor's divisions of family practice and are pulling them into the conversation.
Boundary-Similkameen MLA Roly Russell said that it's clear there needs to be some flexibility in the model.
“The old models that we have kind of inherited, aren't working well,” he added. “What I'm hearing certainly is that they [residents, mayors and doctors] want to have room to have some kind of creative conversations about how do we deliver this health care in a different way than has been done before and in a way that works.”
While options such as a community clinic or primary care network are looked at being established, Russel said those kinds of operational details to support the health centre need to be concrete and figured out so that really functions properly.
“I think everybody is very attuned to the fact that this is a real challenge. It has been growing now for years and years and years. You look at the numbers of unattached patients across the province and over the last 20 years, those numbers have been creeping up and up and up and up,” he said.
“Part of the challenge to issues like this, is there's no silver bullet…There's no one solution that we need. There are a lot of different moving pieces.”
Mckortoff said that a team-based approach through primary care centres or clinics would be the way to proceed with this that might make it a little easier on the doctors and nurse practitioners.
“We are pushing, we will keep at it. We will keep talking and working together,” she said.
Oliver’s mayor said he wants his residents to know that he takes this seriously.
“I'm doing everything I can to tackle the problems that we're having in healthcare. I've been working on it for four years and I will continue to work on it going forward.”
“I think one of the keys to success is making sure we're addressing all of those different levels simultaneously, again, to build a solution that that is not only works and makes sure people have a family doctor, but provides the quality of care that we want, and in a way that is sustainable for our community. So we're not going to see it again in five years or 10 years. But we actually kind of reposition the system for that it works better for the long run,” Russel added.