B.C. Liberal Party MLA Linda Larson from the Boundary-Similkameen riding, spoke in a committee meeting in B.C. Legislature Tuesday afternoon on the issue of health care in the Osoyoos-Oliver area. (B.C. Legislature image)

Osoyoos gets funds for health-care needs study

Health Minister Adrian Dix says he’s planning to head to the area to hear about the issue first hand

The Town of Osoyoos will be conducting a study on the community’s health-care needs after receiving a $100,000 grant from the provincial government.

Mayor Sue McKortoff said town hall applied for the grant after hearing some concerns from the community over a health-care crisis in the community, with major lineups to get into family doctors and shortages on emergency department doctors.

“We had several people come to council quite concerned because they couldn’t get a doctor. They wanted us to turn our building on Main Street into a walk-in clinic,” McKortoff said.

“We decided we had talked to doctors, we had talked to residents, and we decided that it might be a good idea to get a study done on what facilities are here, what is needed, how can we work together in the community and the regional district and try and come up with something that might work better for Osoyoos.”

Related: Small group rallies for better health coverage in South Okanagan

Though some people had made some suggestions to town council, McKortoff said it’s hard to know what the best route is without knowing all of the factors involved.

“You can’t just go off and decide to spend a ton of money building a new facility or something, unless you know exactly what you’re up against and what types of things need to be included, and that’s why you hire somebody who knows what they’re doing,” she said.

“These things cost a lot of money, and I do believe that the town was willing to put in some amount of money as well.”

But since the request was initially put in for the grant, McKortoff pointed to a few things that have improved in the community’s health-care service.

Related: Another ER closure at SOGH

“We don’t have a building for doctor’s office and that kind of thing, but we have had a new doctor come to town. There’s another one that’s moved into Oliver recently,” she said. “We’ve had meetings with the minister of health about the concerns about the hospital.”

She added speakers with a rural health initiative have done talks in local communities on healthy living and things like chronic pain management.

“I think we’ve really done a lot of positive things since we had what many people in the community would call a crisis last year,” McKortoff said. “We were very fortunate to have gotten this money, but we now have to figure out what would the health care professionals really like to include in this.”

Related: With ‘caretaker’ government in charge, little direction for SOGH

The township’s CAO Barry Romanko will be putting together a request for proposals, which will outline what the town is looking for from such a study, but McKortoff couldn’t say when the RFP would be issued.

The issue of the Osoyoos community’s health-care services also came up during a committee meeting in the B.C. Legislature on Tuesday, with MLA Linda Larson bringing up the South Okanagan General Hospital with Health Minister Adrian Dix.

“Normally, it serves about 10,000 people, regular residents, but in the summer and tourist season, up to 30,000,” Larson said in an afternoon committee of supply session, which is looking at budget estimates.

“It’s a 24-hour emergency, but the doctors who work it are just the local GPs who also run their own practices. They’re looking for an APP for the hospital, so that we can pay differently and have permanent full-time emergency doctors.”

Related: Emergency department at hospital to remain open after announced closure

Dix acknowledged there have been some issues that have arisen from effectively paying general practitioners for piecework coverage of the local emergency department.

“I think it reflects some of the challenges of the long-standing way in which we pay doctors in B.C. — of which we have an agreement now — and the needs of communities, which frequently aren’t reflected in them,” Dix said.

“We carve out, on a fee-for-service basis, for certain things, which really aren’t reflected, or certain work that isn’t reflected, by fee-for-service agreements.”

Dix said he would be visiting the community soon — likely by the end of next week, he said — to address concerns and hear from local community members about their issues.

Related: South Okanagan General Hospital emergency closing due to lack of doctors

“I understand the situation there. I know that we have an outstanding CEO at Interior Health who’s working on those questions as well. I’m hoping to go there in a short period of time and be in touch, to engage with people personally on the question,” Dix said.

“It’s obviously something that preoccupied, really, the whole region, both in the period around the election, as we know, but also really for a number of years before that. This is a significant operational question and one I take seriously.”



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