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Province helps Oliver hospital’s ER doctor shortage

Mayor optimistic that new compensation model will attract physicians
Oliver hospital’s ER has been plagued with closures due to lack of doctors. (File photo)

Oliver Mayor Martin Johansen is optimistic that a new funding model to compensate doctors will help bring a near end to or at least lessen the constant emergency department closures at South Okanagan General Hospital.

“This is a positive step in the right direction with giving physicians a flat rate instead of fee for service,” said Johansen. “Younger doctors seem to like this model. It’s not a silver bullet but I think it will bring stabilization.”

The Oliver emergency department has faced dozens of closures over the past two months, plagued with constant doctor shortages, especially on weekends.

One of the big problems is emergency physicians from Penticton or Kelowna hospital are actually paid less when they work in Oliver, Johansen said.

“We have a lot of locums who come from quite far away to cover emergency shifts but because it is a fee for service, they are paid for how many patients they see,” explained Johansen. That new flat rate is appealing to doctors, he has heard.

On Wednesday, the provincial government announced that they are offering a flat rate compensation and committed $7.5 million in permanent funding to help stabilize physician emergency-room coverage in hospitals in Merritt, Oliver and Salmon Arm.

“B.C., like all jurisdictions in Canada, is facing recruitment and retention challenges that were exacerbated by the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing toxic-drug crisis and the rising number of patients with complex healthcare needs, and we know that these challenges are more prominent in rural and remote communities,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “That is why we are taking immediate actions to bolster the recruitment of more physicians for our patients and their care teams.”

The commitment was approved on Sept. 29, for the South Okanagan General Hospital in Oliver. Interior Health is working with local physicians on the three service contracts for emergency services at these hospitals.

This departs from the fee-for-service payment model.

“We’re pleased to be moving forward with new compensation models for physicians in our rural communities,” said Susan Brown, president and CEO of Interior Health. “This is another step forward to stabilizing health services for rural residents as it will support our recruitment efforts going forward.”

There isn’t an exact timeline for when the new model will be implemented but it can’t come soon enough, with emergency being closed twice over the weekend as is the case almost every weekend this summer and fall.

“There is a process that has to be followed to get this implemented but I believe the target goal is November,” said Johansen.

READ MORE: IH says it is giving incentives to try and cure doctor shortages at Oliver emergency services

Monique Tamminga

About the Author: Monique Tamminga

Monique brings 20 years of award-winning journalism experience to the role of editor at the Penticton Western News. Of those years, 17 were spent working as a senior reporter and acting editor with the Langley Advance Times.
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