Funding boosts rural access to emergency care

The lobbying for rural hospital funding from South Okanagan municipal officials seems to have gotten through to the province who announced a $10 million emergency care plan this week.

The program will benefit rural communities and support physicians by improving patient access to rural emergency services, according to the province. The South Okanagan General Hospital in Oliver and Princeton General Hospital were indicated as two of 19 B.C. hospitals in need.

In June, Oliver Mayor Pat Hampson told the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen board that Oliver’s emergency ward has only three doctors providing coverage where there normally would be seven. He said doctors have submitted their resignations over pay-equity issues because they are being paid on a case-by-case basis in emergency instead of receiving salary as in Penticton Regional Hospital.

Hampson along with Osoyoos Mayor Stu Wells, Boundary Similkameen MLA John Slater, Keremeos Mayor and regional hospital district chair Walter Despot, RDOS directors Alan Patton and Mark Pendergraft and two doctors from Oliver and Osoyoos lobbied the government last month for some sort of short to medium-term solution.

“I feel positive about it. We made the pitch and something has come of it and, most importantly, it indicates that the province recognizes it’s a problem,” said Hampson.

The Oliver mayor said he has heard some doctors aren’t so keen on the program, which he said may stem from confusion of the wording that was in the provincial government press release earlier this week.

“What we are looking at is the province has put together some funding and some criteria so doctors are covered on a fee-for-service basis,” said Slater. “If they are on call, they are getting paid, and I think the issue was because of the shortage of doctors in the South Okanagan the doctors felt if we missed one night on emergency shift they wouldn’t get any of the money. That is not the case at all.”

Funding of up to $200,000 per year will be provided to groups of rural, fee-for-service physicians who commit to work as a team to ensure reliable public access to emergency services at their rural community hospital. Physicians will work with the regional health authority to develop a community-specific plan for how funding might best be applied.

The province provided examples of how the funding might be used, including hiring additional physicians (full-time or part-time); engaging additional, temporary, locum support; incentives for weekend, holiday or night shift coverage; and hiring additional, other health-care providers to help manage patient volumes and purchasing equipment.

“The government listened to us and I think that is very important. They put an interim measure in place that, in my opinion, will look after the needs for this year. They stated it’s not a permanent fix and we know it’s not a permanent fix, but I feel it’s a lot better than what was there. Hopefully in the not to distant future there will be a permanent fix in place,” said Despot.

“It’s an uphill struggle and it is going to happen all over the place because the demands and needs of the public have gone up and we don’t have the funding and physical resources of personnel to meet the needs. That is the problem and it wont go away as we get older.”


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