Recruiting and retaining doctors has become a major issue for both Sparwood and Elkford.
Interior Health’s CEO Dr. Robert Halpenny visited Sparwood, Elkford and Fernie last week. Halpenny said he tries to tour each Interior Health site at least once a year. During the visits, he’ll meet with medical staff, Interior Health staff, foundation staff, auxiliary staff, volunteers and local elected officials.
“We went to Elkford and met with local physicians. We understand the issue of recruitment and retention in those smaller communities,” said Halpenny. “We went to Sparwood and had the same issues of recruitment and retention.”
Earlier this month, the emergency department in Sparwood had to close over a weekend because of limited doctor availability.
“When the number of physicians is three or less, and you lose one, it becomes a crisis,” said Halpenny, adding that these issues are unfortunately not unique to this area.
Halpenny said he wants to work with clinicians, communities, Provincial recruitment agencies and Interior Health agencies to accomplish two things.
“There’s short term and long term. The short term obviously is to try and find the locums (fill in doctors.) The long term is to do appropriate recruitment across Canada and outside of Canada.”
It is a very difficult climate right now to recruit and retain doctors across Canada, said Halpenny, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. This year, University of British Columbia’s Southern Medical Program began in Kelowna with teaching sites throughout the Okanagan.
“Our goal is when we teach and train these physicians in rural communities, that there is a greater chance they will gravitate to those sites.”
Another new initiative announced by the province this year is the potential to use nurse practitioners in primary care settings, such as those in Sparwood and Elkford, said Halpenny.
“We will be looking over the next year to find appropriate places to have nurse practitioners participate in primary care. “
Despite the challenges that lie ahead, Halpenny was impressed by the facilities he toured.
“When you walk into the facilities, the people are bright and friendly. You feel that there is a sense of caring.”