Doctor says leadership is needed to keep emergency room at SOGH open

By on June 15, 2017

Dr. Peter Entwistle says there’s been a lack of leadership on addressing staffing issues surrounding South Okanagan General Hospital’s emergency room. He alleges there was a politically motivated short-term injection of cash to keep the ER from closing during the recent provincial election. (Richard McGuire file photo)

Near-closures of the emergency room at South Okanagan General Hospital (SOGH) have renewed concerns over the model of health care delivery in Oliver.

“We don’t have adequate staffing levels at all times,” Dr. Peter Entwistle said about SOGH’s emergency room. “If we could do things the way we like, we’d have extra staff for busier times, but we don’t have the staffing to do that.”

While efforts have been made to deal with staffing issues, Entwistle said there’s a lack of leadership and it’s time to take a new approach.

“The sad thing, the governments have been throwing a lot more money at the problem and it’s been making the problem worse,” he said.

During the campaign leading up to the May 9 provincial election, he believes a short-term injection of cash prevented SOGH’s emergency room from having to periodically close in the middle of the night. Entwistle said that practice, which he thinks was politically motivated, promotes disparity of pay between doctors, as the ones called in from out of town are offered a greater rate than local doctors.

Entwistle ran unsuccessfully as an independent candidate in the election, making healthcare his main issue.

“The pay is not based on qualifications or experience, it’s based on where they come from. In the long run, it’s not sustainable to say we’re going to pay some doctors more than others.”

The government’s habit of paying doctors premium rates to address short-term issues discourages them from taking on long-term positions, Entwistle said, thereby reenforcing the “so-called physician shortage.”

Entwistle said British Columbia already has enough resources available to adequately improve the health care system.

“There is so much that could be done that isn’t particularly expensive, we just need good leadership.”

When the government tries to study the problem, he finds many of the investigations to be redundant and ineffective.

However, he calls himself an optimist and says a solution is within reach.

Carl Meadows, Interior Healths’ acute health services administrator, has the same goal as Entwistle, which is to keep the SOGH open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

But Interior Health takes somewhat of a hands-off approach. Although it’s a publicly funded health care provider, it’s not responsible for hiring doctors or determining how much they get paid.

“Interior Health doesn’t hire physicians, we give them the privilege to work in our hospitals,” said Meadows.

Funding formulas for doctors are decided upon by the Ministry of Health, and it’s up to the chief of staff at each hospital to “identify how that funding envelope is applied,” Meadows said.

He added that Interior Health has a good relationship with doctors, and their team is doing everything within their ability to figure out a long-term solution for staffing shortages.

Osoyoos Mayor Sue McKortoff said that while it’s a very complicated issue, the municipality will do whatever it can to ensure SOGH’s emergency room stays open.

“But there are limitations,” she said. “There are certain things we just can’t dictate.”

Oliver Mayor Ron Hovanes knows there isn’t an easy solution to attracting more doctors to town, but he said the population of the South Okanagan is far too large to be without a full service hospital.

“We need and deserve to have a hospital and emergency room that is fully operational,” he said.

And financial incentives can only go so far. Since all it takes to serve the SOGH’s emergency room overnight is a single doctor, Hovanes suspects that many doctors prefer to work in bigger hospitals where they can count on the support of other medical professionals.

Local doctors met with Interior Health on Monday to discuss the issue.

DAN WALTON

Regional Reporter

 

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