Swamped doctors appeal for help

Interior Health promises to address Sparwood doctor shortage

Kimberley Vlasic

Free Press Staff

Swamped doctors in Sparwood have been thrown a lifeline after Interior Health promised additional support to the “chronically underserviced” district.

The Sparwood facility is currently staffed by three full-time physicians who must balance the needs of the emergency department with providing ongoing primary care to patients.

Last month, local doctor Tara Pigott wrote to Mayor Cal McDougall requesting his support with a funding application for an extra physician to cope with the demand.

“I believe that Sparwood has been chronically underserviced,” she wrote.

“Despite our best efforts there are about 1700 residents… unattached to the clinic – almost 45 per cent of the population.

“We are at our maximum capacity in the clinic so these unattached patients either remain orphan patients or need to travel to Fernie or the Pass for their regular medical care.”

McDougall was away when the matter went before council but said he was very aware of the challenges local doctors faced.

“We’ve had that many physicians for quite some time but we did struggle prior to that with getting and retaining physicians,” he said.

“We did lose a lot of people in our community to doctors outside of the community, in Crowsnest Pass or Fernie.

“It’s really hard to try to encourage those people… back to Sparwood when it takes two to three weeks to get an appointment.

“If we had another physician we would certainly put in a real effort to try to get some of those people back to Sparwood and using local physicians as their general doctor.”

Terri Domin, health services administrator for the East Kootenay, also acknowledged Sparwood’s staffing issues.

She attributed demand to a growing population.

“We work closely with the staff and leadership at the site to support day-to-day practice to ensure the physicians have support to care for the patients in their practices,” she said.

According to Interior Health, Sparwood missed the cut off for new physician contract funding.

However, Domin said the community would not be forgotten.

“Interior Health is reviewing what options we may be able to pursue in supporting this site,” she said.

“The ER (emergency room) remains open seven days a week to meet the needs of public for services for those that do not have a family physician and are in need of care.

“The Sparwood physicians continue to have access to the rural locum pool for relief doctors to come in and support them when they need time off, ensuring there is no interruption in patient care time.

“In addition, Sparwood has a Nurse Practitioner that is available two days a week to accept patients and to support primary care needs.”

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