Lynne Karch moved to the Penticton area from Calgary a few months ago to care for her aging mother and enjoy an enhanced quality of life.
But she had a rude awakening when trying to find a family doctor.
“It is very frightening for me, I am actually scared,” she said.
Karch is one of 5,000 people currently on a centralized waitlist managed by the South Okanagan Similkameen Division of Family Practice.
“It was a year or 18 months, hopefully, until your name came up and you just got the next available GP and I was stunned. I was absolutely flabbergasted,” she said of the long wait for a primary-care provider.
Since the Patient Attachment List was created in 2019, 4,500 patients have been connected with primary care providers.
Dr. Greg Selinger, board chair of the SOS Division of Family Practice, said the local physician shortage is driven largely by increasing demand and retiring baby-boomer doctors.
But that means patients like Karch, who suffers from a heart condition, are being left in the lurch.
“Six years ago, I died. I had a massive cardiac arrest, and no symptoms, no pain; it’s just a congenital heart arrhythmia,” she said.
The Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen is well aware of the acute doctor shortage.
A staff report to the hospital board says “the shortage of family doctors is prevalent and increasing.”
The RDOS has discussed for years if local government should get involved in proactively funding primary care clinics in an effort to attract more doctors.
But on Thursday, members of the hospital board voted against it and opted to lobby the province for better investment in rural health care instead.
Dr. Selinger said team-based practices are the future of primary care, and the Ponderosa clinic in Penticton is considered a flagship model to replicate.
“We find that providers, when they come to the community, they have more interest in larger clinics,” he said.
But it comes down to funding, he said, and there are no proposals on the table to open similar clinics.
Karch is criticizing the government for what she calls a lack of leadership and urgency.
“Go out and find doctors, bring them from other countries,” she said. “Do what you need to do to advocate for these people!
“I legitimately am afraid for my life.”