UPDATED: Penticton family speaks out about losing only child arthritis specialist in B.C. Interior
Eight-year-old Penticton child Haley Potentier is worried she could end up in a wheelchair if she does not get the medication she needs to combat juvenile arthritis.
“I might get crippled, I might have to have a wheelchair, maybe even go blind, those are my worries,” said the Grade 3 student at Carmi Elementary School.
READ MORE: Understanding the battle of arthritis
Haley suffers from the autoimmune disease in her knees and ankles. The condition causes inflammation in the tissue that lines the inside of her joints.
Haley and her mother Leah Potentier are speaking out after the only child arthritis specialist in the B.C. Interior retired last month with no replacement.
Dr. Kathy Gross is a pediatric rheumatologist based at the Penticton Arthritis Clinic and sees children from across the Thompson-Okanagan and Kootenay regions. She is working as a locum on a temporary basis until the end of February.
“She helps me a lot,” Haley said.
But Dr. Gross’s replacement is facing regulatory barriers. The replacement specialist studied in India, but she is having trouble obtaining a license to practice in B.C. through the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Approximately 200 children who were patients of Dr. Gross are caught in the red tape limbo and will be forced to travel to B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver for specialized care.
“She won’t have anyone to go to anymore because we can’t get to Vancouver,” said Potentier.
“We have no means of transportation or the funds to go up there every three months.”
The Penticton mother is concerned her daughter’s condition will deteriorate without the medicine she needs to keep the symptoms at bay.
Her next medication refill is supposed to occur in March, and Potentier said it cannot be prescribed by a local family doctor.
“It’s going to get worse because she won’t be able to get the help she needs, she won’t be able to get the medication anymore that she needs.”
Potentier is encouraging health officials to expedite the approval process so the replacement specialist can start practicing in Penticton.
“They need to look past the fact that she is not from here. She’s still really qualified for it,” she said.
Interior Health said it is currently recruiting for additional pediatricians in the Okanagan, particularly those with rheumatology training.
“In the interim, Interior Health will work with family practitioners and families to ensure those who require rheumatology services have access to specialist support through B.C. Children’s Hospital. We recognize families will need to travel for this service and that this may be challenging for them,” Interior Health spokesperson Karl Hardt said in an email.
The provincial travel assistance program and B.C. family residence program are both available to support families, he added.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. sent a statement late in the day saying it is aware of the challenges smaller communities face in recruiting qualified specialists.
“To assist international medical graduates in meeting Canadian standards, provincial colleges across Canada are working with government to seek alternate pathways for them to obtain licensure through comprehensive clinical field assessments,” the college said in an email.
“The college’s legislation and registration processes are comprehensive and are not designed to make one-off exceptions,” it added.
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