North Shuswap to lose doctors

Larry Morgan,  Area F director - File photo
Larry Morgan, Area F director
— image credit: File photo

North Shuswap residents may be without doctors in their area come September.

Drs. Janet and Ken Bates, who have worked closely with members of the North Shuswap Health Centre Society since 2011, will retire at the end of June. Locums will continue providing service until September.

Members of the society provided an update on ongoing health issues in a letter to the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, which sparked discussion among directors at last week’s board meeting in Salmon Arm.

“We knew in 2011 that Drs. Bates would retire in three years and that is still their plan,” wrote society co-chairs Jay Simpson and Pat Robertson. “In the four years that they have practised medicine from our clinic, our community’s health has benefited in remarkable ways.”

Most significant, they say, is the chronic disease management program set up by Janet Bates with nurse Denise Bumby.

“This regular monitoring of residents with complex needs adds immeasurably to their quality of life and minimizes their need for hospital care.”

The society, which received a $5,000 grant in aid from the regional district in 2011 to assist with start-up costs, has grown to the point that the equivalent of five days per week physician care is provided, one day per week of lab services for blood collection, two days per week of nurse practitioner care and one day per month of service from a foot-care specialist, and an occasional vaccination clinic.

The society’s initial focus was to replace all the equipment Interior Health removed when they withdrew services three years ago.

The clinic now has three fully-equipped exam rooms and a sterilization unit that allows doctors to do minor surgery.

“All of this has been possible because of the community support of our fundraising efforts,” wrote Simpson and Robertson, noting the society could come up with funding to keep the clinic open for a further three months. “Now physician recruitment is our No. 1 priority and our community  has supported our efforts by fundraising to provide $15,000 incentive for any physician who chooses Scotch Creek as a full-time practice location.”

In their letter, the co-chairs point out that while Interior Health does offer rural practice incentives, they do not cover moving costs or signing bonuses.

While currently in conversation with Interior Health, society members believe CSRD should be aware of the impact clinic closure would have on the 2,400 North Shuswap residents, who would have to drive anywhere from 30 to 90 kilometres to access health care.

“We want to keep the services we have and if we do not have a replacement physician by the end of September, we will be desperate.”

At last week’s regional district board meeting, Area F North Shuswap director Larry Morgan said a nurse practitioner is also a consideration. He pointed out that Sorrento has a nurse practitioner and residents there are only 15 minutes to a hospital, while some North Shuswap residents have a half-hour trip to a clinic.

Area E Rural Sicamous director Rhona Martin noted retired Salmon Arm doctor, Brian Ayotte, is working on doctor recruitment.

“He attended a ‘boat show’ of doctors in Banff and there will be a meeting of that group on April 29,” she said. “Maybe you want to consider yourself part of Shuswap region, maybe come to the table and see what  is happening and maybe focus on those efforts.”

Sicamous Mayor Darrell Trouton agreed.

“People are panicking there, everybody is struggling with this,” he said.

“We need to get together.”


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