By Barb Brouwer
A resident wishing to see a doctor during walk-in hours at the Salmon Arm Medical Clinic last week was greeted by locked doors.
A sign on the door indicated that due to high patient volume that day, the clinic was not accepting any more patients for the evening.
Shuswap Family Practice manager Linda Peasgood says the practice gets daily calls from people looking for a family physician.
“We are not taking new patients,” she says, noting she has seen an increase in demand over the past five years. “We are so full, if we took more patients the wait times would be that much longer.”
What’s happening in Salmon Arm is reflective of what’s happening throughout the province and across Canada, says Tracey Kirkman, executive director of the Shuswap North Okanagan Division of Family Practice.
Kirkman says Salmon Arm has been lucky compared to Sorrento and Sicamous, which have been trying to recruit for several years, with Sorrento finally getting the services of a nurse practitioner.
“The reality, struggle and challenges are very real,” she acknowledges. “The other piece is that Salmon Arm has grown in numbers and complexity of care, and this puts huge pressure on the family physicians.”
That is why the division is working with the Ministry of Health and Interior Health to develop primary care networks, in which patients receive care in their ‘medical homes’ supported by a team of ‘allied health providers.’
“A patient medical home is where you access primary care, either by a family physician or nurse practitioner,” she says, noting allied health providers could include physiotherapists, occupational therapists, social workers or dietitians. “The goals of the primary care network is to support doctors and nurse practitioners to take on patients who have no doctors and to increase access and urgent after-hours care.”
Kirkman says that over the past two years, Salmon Arm has been successful in recruiting doctors to the community, but points out that several doctors have a part-time family practice and also work in the operating room, emergency, deliver babies, look after seniors, work in pain management or at the SAS Wellness Centre.
“The point we’re trying to get across is that in small towns and rural communities, family doctors are often expected to be everything to everybody, and that is challenging, exhausting and not sustainable,” Kirkman says. “We are working hard to fix this to support the doctors and give patients what they need, which is access to care.”