Doctors in dispute over Scotch Creek clinic

Physicians feel misled over IH services for North Shuswap.

A position at the Scotch Creek Clinic that Dr. Janet Bates thought would be an uncomplicated one has turned out to be much more of a headache than she expected.

What began with such promise has ended on a sour note.

Two North Shuswap doctors have taken over operation of a clinic they believed would be operated by Interior Health. Now they say IH is making it difficult for them to operate properly by taking away promised support services without warning, but the health region official disputes the claims.

Following several years of working in a U.S. hospital and her debilitating battle with endometrial cancer, Dr. Janet Bates and her husband Ken returned to Canada last year in hopes of practising medicine without politics, something they thought would be the case when they saw the Interior Health website’s “Room to Grow” career opportunity pages.

Under the “Regions” section of the website, both Chase and the Scotch Creek Medical Clinic are listed as Interior Health facilities. Janet says when she and her husband were interviewed, she was under the impression she would work at the North Shuswap clinic at least on a part-time basis.

“We really thought it would be part of the whole thing,” she says, pointing out the Bates believed Ken would work full-time in Chase and Janet part-time in Chase and Scotch Creek. Both doctors began working in Chase in February – Ken 4.5 days per week and Janet 2.5. Bates says on March 1, she began work in the Scotch Creek Clinic one day a week, adding a second day on April 1.

“And then IH decided not to have a doctor out here,” she says. “They set me up, sent me staff, then pulled her away. I was told I was to go back to Chase, they didn’t want me working in Scotch Creek at all.”

Bates says she became very vocal in her fight to keep the Scotch Creek clinic operational but was told there was nothing about the North Shuswap Clinic in her or Ken’s contract with IH. Bates says what she first believed would offer her the ability to practise medicine without administrative issues, turned out to be something she couldn’t support. While IH does handle administration at Chase Clinic, paying doctors in a contractual arrangement, they are expected to see 25 patients per day. As well, she says, staff support is insufficient with one medical office assistant provided for 1.5 doctors.

“The health-care system is really a nightmare. We do a good job, we try hard but we couldn’t keep up with 25 people a day,” she says, noting she and her husband were warned by doctors in Kamloops not to move to Chase because the clinic is “a hot bed of politics,” but believed in assurances from the health authority to the contrary.

“I’m worried about power of health authorities and I wonder if there isn’t some sort of oversight.”

Bates continued to work in Chase four days per week until September and says she was encouraged to take over private operation of the Scotch Creek Clinic in June. She was told by Bryan Redford, community area director IH West, that doctors should be in charge of their own clinics. Bates says Redford assured her IH would support her and her husband by continuing to cover the costs of the clinic until next July. However, she notes, they have spent $40,000 on getting the clinic up and running, buying new computers because IH said they would take theirs back.

In the meantime, they have lost access to the IH system, were not advised about the need to apply to another provincial program and, more recently, were cut off laundry supply from the health authority. As well, Bates says the two remaining doctors at the Chase Clinic said they would be happy to take referrals, something staff refused to do when Bates tried to book an appointment for one of her patients.

“I totally understand that IHA cannot seem to be appearing to help out any private physicians, and am more than happy to take over all of these financial responsibilities; however do you think that perhaps in the interest of patient care, giving me at least some kind of warning would be appropriate,” wrote Bates in a Nov. 26 letter to IH.

Redford defends IH’s decision to relinquish the Scotch Creek clinic, noting Chase Clinic needs doctors to serve the 18,000 patient visits per year from a larger area. He says the health authority was willing to cancel the Bates’ contracts after four months because they were obviously not happy with the arrangement.

“We have tried to be as supportive as we can,” he says, noting computer issues are a result of Bates buying a different system and that an IH computer remains in the Scotch Creek clinic for their use.

“They also have access for all electronic test results such as CT scans and MRIs. All they have to do is call the clinic.” Redford maintains he is delighted the Bates will operate the Scotch Creek clinic – Ken left Chase Clinic at the end of November and joins his wife in operating the clinic.

While not yet up to speed on all the issues, newly elected Columbia Shuswap Regional District North Shuswap director Larry Morgan says he is meeting with Redford.

“I intend to work with Interior Health, along with all other stakeholders, to provide for the continued operation of our health care clinic in Scotch Creek,” he says. “Areas of the North Shuswap, along with Seymour Arm, are too far removed from alternative health care clinics, to adequately serve our local residents, including our many seniors.”

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