Mungall Pressures Minister on Physician Recruitment

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Nelson – MLA Michelle Mungall rose in the Legislature yesterday to pressure Minister of Health, Terry Lake to take action and address the struggles Kootenay communities face when recruiting physicians.

“The Minister needs to be aware of the healthcare challenges that our communities in the Kootenays are facing, “ says Mungall. “I met with the IHA, and spoke directly with CEO Robert Halpeny, but ultimately, the Minister needs to take action to address the issue of physician shortages.”

Mungall cited the sporadic ER closures in Kaslo, doctor shortages in Nelson and orphaned patients in Creston while questioning the Minister about improving physician recruitment efforts.  She also pointed out that the government in their pre-election throne speech committed to improvements for rural patients, but on paper the recent Ministry of Health service plan only mentions “rural areas” once when it refers to investment in information technology services.

“Physician recruitment problems are causing larger healthcare issues in the Kootenays,” says Mungall. “This government needs to do more to ensure that our rural communities have the doctors we need.”

To view the video transcript CLICK HERE.


Afternoon Sitting
M. Mungall: I want to bring the minister’s attention to some recruitment issues in the Kootenays for physicians. Specifically, we’re having some trouble with emergency room and health centre closures. Kaslo alone, this month — six times it has had to close the ER there. We’ve also seen situations in Elkford and in Sparwood where they’ve had to have some closures. When talking to the IHA, they say that this is about physician recruitment, ultimately — that they are really struggling to recruit physicians into rural communities throughout the IH area but, most notably, for my constituents in the Kootenays.
 I thought it was quite interesting, though, in looking at other health authorities, that in Northern Health they don’t have this recruitment problem to the extent that the IH has. In fact, they have cited success in many of their recruitment efforts. So I’m wondering if the ministry has done any analysis on why IH in particular is having this recruitment difficulty — therefore, of course, this recruitment difficulty causing closures to the Kaslo ER and other health centres, as well as just having overall orphaned patients throughout the region, particularly in Creston. Nelson, for the first time in many years, is starting to face this as well.
 Hon. T. Lake: Through to the member, this is a problem not just in her communities of her constituency but in many others. In fact, it’s a problem around the western world. Anyone who has seen the 1994 movie Doc Hollywood knows the rural community recruiting challenges with doctors. The answer there was to get the doctor to fall in love with someone in the community, and then he stayed.
 In fact, that’s kind of what we try to do in many instances in British Columbia. We train doctors, and we train nurses in areas outside of the major urban centres of Vancouver and Victoria in the hopes that they will fall in love with the community and perhaps with a potential spouse and then take up their residence there. But that’s obviously not the only thing we do.
 It is a concern in my constituencies — probably the number one concern of constituents who come through my office. So it’s a challenge for all of us to meet the needs of rural British Columbia when it comes to not just health care professionals but actually all professionals. The government and the B.C. Medical Association, through the Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues, recognize that and particularly in emergency departments to which the member is referring.
 They have created a program that provides up to $200,000 each year to support emergency department plans, developed by rural physicians in consultation with health authorities and that assist them in providing scheduled, reliable public access to emergency services in rural hospitals.
 That is in addition to other rural incentives we had. I believe in consultation with health authorities, that assist them in providing scheduled, reliable public access to emergency services in rural hospitals.
That is in addition to other rural incentives that we had. I believe we talked earlier — perhaps the member wasn’t in the House at the time — about the incentives to pay off student loans, to provide extra locum fees for physicians to locate in rural communities, as well as a pilot program in several communities to entice physicians into those areas.
 In terms of Interior Health versus Northern Health, Interior Health, of course, has a huge area. It covers the size of most European countries. There are, I believe, 23 hospitals in Interior Health. Northern Health has a much smaller population and fewer health care facilities.
 So they don’t have the same challenges in terms of the quantity of physicians that are required. That may speak to some of the differences. There may be others.
 I think that it’s something that…. I, certainly, would like to work with Interior Health — well, we already do — as an MLA from that region. I’ve worked with the divisions of family practice, worked with Interior Health. In fact, I had a meeting with their vice-president for community services last week in my constituency office about this issue.
 We continue to do what we can to try and encourage physicians and other health care professionals to locate in rural communities and certainly understand that it is a challenge that all jurisdictions in the western world are facing.
 M. Mungall: I just want to bring the minister’s attention, though, to what was outlined in the throne speech. The throne speech this February, prior to the election, did say that the government would commit to outline improvements for patients in rural and urban areas — notably, for my area, the rural component of that.
 Then, in the ministry service plan, though, we only see rural mentioned once. That’s where it promises to “make investments in information technology and information management systems to improve service quality and efficiency and increase access to services, particularly” — and this is where the word “rural” appears — “in rural areas.”
 Not specifically targeting the physician recruitment issue…. The minister did list off some of the things that the ministry is doing — working with the health authorities to increase recruitment efforts and to facilitate physicians moving to rural communities — but clearly, that’s not enough.
 There’s something going on here that we need to address, and we can’t do it with any tips from Doc Hollywood,  I don’t think. I think we have to be taking a little bit more of a concerted effort in doing some serious analysis around that.
 So that’s where my question is really coming from. Is the ministry is committed to doing some analysis to have a better understanding of what this issue is, what’s at the root of it, and how we solve it? Our communities deserve no less.