An Oliver town councillor says lives could be lost if the province doesn’t address the staffing shortages plaguing the emergency department at South Okanagan General Hospital (SOGH).
During a committee of the whole meeting on Monday, mayor and town council decided to raise the issue with B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix at the upcoming Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver.
“If it continues, lives will be lost, and does the government want to be responsible for that?” said Coun. Dave Mattes.
For the second time in three weeks, the emergency department at SOGH in Oliver underwent an overnight closure on Saturday, July 6.
As was the case on Saturday, June 15, Interior Health said the overnight closure was due to a lack of physician coverage.
The doctor staffing shortages are due to high workload, lack of support and a gap in compensation between Oliver and surrounding hospitals like Penticton Regional Hospital (PRH), according to a delegation of local doctors who spoke to town council last fall.
WATCH (January 2019): ‘It seems kind of crazy’ — Oliver councillors demand action on hospital ER staffing shortages
“Unfortunately, we anticipate more issues going forward for potential closures, unfilled shifts, and we’re not finding solutions at the moment,” said Dr. Jacob Bellingan at the time.
Currently, doctors are compensated on a fee-for-service model, which means they are paid per patient.
The physicians told council they want to see the payment structure changed to the alternative payment plan, or APP, which means they would be compensated per hour.
Coun. Petra Veintimilla agreed that the problem needs to be solved.
“We’re not choosing to live in the back 40 somewhere in the bush where we’re completely disconnected from the grid,” she said. “We’re in a heavily populated corridor of the province.
“We don’t deserve a lower level of service than those that choose to live in the metropolitan areas.”
Oliver Mayor Martin Johansen said the situation has worsened in recent months.
WATCH (March 2017): Oliver hospital’s chief of staff resigns in protest
“I think we need to talk about the deteriorating conditions that are happening there and may be chronological, how things have deteriorated so quickly in the last six months and the consequences that we are starting to see, and that message needs to be pretty clear,” he said.
Health-care officials have said the solution to solving the staffing crisis in the emergency department at SOGH is to provide housing to locum doctors.
The request to town council came in the form of a letter dated Feb. 26 penned by Dr. Kevin Hill, board director of the South Okanagan Division of Family Practice, and Carl Meadows, health services administrator with the Interior Health Authority.
The medical powers said the rural hospital relies on locums to cover vacation time in clinics and for emergency vacancies. However, providing housing for locums wanting to travel to practice in the South Okanagan has been a “real challenge.”
Johansen said in April that a fully contained suite has been located and will be funded equally by “all participating partners.”
Global Okanagan has reached out to stakeholders for an update on the physician housing initiative.
On Thursday, the Town of Oliver said housing for locums and SOGH emergency department doctors has been secured and in place since the beginning of May, through a partnership involving Osoyoos and Oliver plus RDOS Electoral Areas A and C.
The town noted that, to date, the suite has not been used.
The town also said it is working with the South Okanagan Similkameen Division of Family Practice to take on the administration for the use of the suite.