City of Fernie staff and councillors have received an update on how the Medical Staff Association (MSA) in the Elk Valley have been faring during the ongoing pandemic and through 2020.
At the Nov. 16 Committee of the Whole meeting at the City of Fernie, President of the MSA, Dr Tara Chalmers-Nixon talked about how the MSA had gone through a COVID-19 mobilization, with weekly updates with Interior Health partners and Upper Elk Valley physicians on preparedness across departments in all three communities (with medical facilities) in the Elk Valley. Interior Health also reorganized the local health organization prior to the pandemic, with a new Director of Operations for Elkford, Sparwood and Fernie.
Additionally, Dr Chalmers-Nixon reported that “the Elk Valley Hospital now has a 24/7, 365 days a year operating room,” thanks to support from the Rural Surgical and Obstetrics Network (RSON) – a provincial network designed to support rural communities in getting safe maternity care closer to rural communities.
“This is the first time in history that the people of the Elk Valley have an operating room available every day of the year,” said Dr Chalmers-Nixon. “To give you an idea of the significance, in 2017 (the Elk Valley Hospital) had a five week annual operating room shut down, as well as closures every other weekend. This meant that maternity patients had to go to East Kootenay Regional Hospital for labour and delivery during these closures. Now all low risk maternity patients can labour close to home. With an average of 100-120 births annually, this is a huge benefit for our community.”
Dr Chalmers-Nixon also talked about the recruitment challenges facing the medical community in the Elk Valley.
“Interior Health had identified that we had about 5,000 unattached patients in the Elk Valley (patients without a family doctor) … and over the last year we’ve been successful in improving (reach) and recruiting,” she said.
“Some smaller towns of course have difficulty recruiting, and the Elk Valley of late has been fortunate.”
Dr Chalmers-Nixon said that a new doctor had been hired in Fernie, and Sparwood had recently been able to fill two physician positions that had been vacated through retirements, “which is really great to allow for closer-to-home care for those that reside in Sparwood.”
Dr Chalmers-Nixon also talked about the need for an ongoing recruitment plan, with the MSA forming a recruitment committee “in anticipation of future retirements and hopefully not ending up in the position where we are really strapped. Some of our neighbouring communities – Cranbrook for instance – are really in trouble because they are needing many more physicians. Fernie is planning ahead so to speak, to be sure there’s always that secession planning for family physicians in town.”
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