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Princeton wants a doctor in the house

Princeton has begun leasing a posh townhouse in the community’s downtown in order to attract doctors to work in the town, where a shortage of medical staff has limited the hospital’s emergency room hours.

The Town of Princeton and the Regional District of the Okanagan-Similkameen pooled their funds and began leasing the $2,200 per month townhouse, which comes complete with hardwood floors, granite countertops and a personal gym.

The hope is that the townhouse will be an extra incentive to attract locums, doctors who work on a temporary basis, to the community. This measure is on top of extra cash incentives from the Rural Emergency Enhancement Fund, an initiative to improve public access to emergency services in rural B.C.

“It’s absolutely essential that you have ER here,” said Brad Hope, Area H director with the RDOS. “The number of jobs here that are high-risk — logging, mining, there’s a huge number of jobs. We’ve got a major highway that can be quite challenging and no cellphone coverage on it. The reasons we need this just go on and on.”

Hope said that while the RDOS and the town paid for the townhouse, local industry contributed a significant amount of funding to immediately attract locums until the enhancement fund money can come through.

However, Hope said the leasing of the townhouse to attract doctors to the community is not something the town likes to do.

“We don’t like bidding against other towns, especially with communities that are along the same highway, and yet here we are, trying to pull doctors from other communities to our community,” said Hope.

“We’re willing to do whatever we have to do, but it’s not something we like doing — competing with other folks, and upping the ante when we think the province should be paying for it.”

Princeton is one of several small rural communities attempting to outshine other areas to attract highly sought-after medical staff.

Earlier this month, the Canadian Press reported that the Arrow Lakes Hospital Foundation in the village of Nakusp formed a corporation to purchase a $280,000 house to entice a doctor pressed with other job offers to stay in the town.

As well, according to the Coast Reporter, Sechelt’s St. Mary’s Hospital Foundation leased a three-bedroom house in order to provide housing for temporary medical staff, as well as a short-term home for physicians wishing to move into the town. The foundation leased the house two years ago when faced with a similar shortage, and the move helped to attract permanent doctors to the area.

However, some communities feel they are being left behind. Ashcroft Mayor Andy Anderson said that his town, unlike other communities, can’t pay for perks such as houses to draw in the limited supply of doctors.

“I think it seems like it’s getting a little carried away,” he said. “But they’re going to do what they have to do to attract (doctors.)”

Ashcroft is one of many smaller communities facing a shortage of doctors to staff their ER. The town currently has two doctors, one of whom will be leaving the community by the end of the year. Because of this shortage, the ER’s hours have been steadily declining, even being closed during high-attendance, high-risk events such as the community’s rodeo.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said that $10 million is available in support programs to encourage doctors to practice in rural communities; however, Anderson said the issue isn’t with the funding of doctors, but rather the supply.

The current lack of residencies available to doctors is what is creating this shortage, said Anderson, and creating more doctors is the solution, not giving current doctors more money.

“There’d be more doctors available if the residency program was extended and the government would spend money on that. We wouldn’t need to go to these long lengths to get these physicians,” he said. “That money would have been better spent in the residency program.”

Currently, the community is in the process of recruiting two doctors from South Africa, but Anderson said Ashcroft would always be looking to recruit more.

 

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