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Medical centre would help to attract and retain more younger doctors, says Dr. Tarr
Osoyoos needs to consider health care in its planning, ideally supporting a community facility that can house doctors and related professionals under one roof.
That’s the view of Dr. Garnet Tarr, who spoke recently at a Rotary Club of Osoyoos Thursday lunch meeting about the GP For Me initiative that aims to make family physicians more accessible.
“I think one of the biggest issues is some sort of community facility,” said Tarr, pointing out that other communities have adopted this approach.
“I think it would go a long way towards recruitment because if you have a young doctor coming here, they are not able to set up a practice just like that. Finding spaces is difficult, even rentable spaces.”
Town planners consider such things as the location of roads, he said, but there’s not an iota dedicated to health care planning.
Tarr, who grew up in South Africa, lived in the small southeast Saskatchewan town of Redvers for nine years before moving with his wife Marieze to Osoyoos 14 years ago.
Redvers, he said, had such a facility that put doctors together with a physiotherapist, social workers and other related professionals.
“It is a lot easier and by doing that there’s a certain amount of subsidized rent which then allowed doctors to come in and set up without having to go through the process of doing it all themselves,” Tarr said.
Years ago, during the construction boom in Osoyoos, Tarr proposed to then mayor John Slater that a levy should be charged on new construction to help subsidize a community health facility.
He acknowledges that this would be difficult to do today when there is so little new construction.
Lack of available space for doctors, however, is a big impediment to attracting doctors to Osoyoos and retaining them, he said.
His own clinic, the Desert Doctors’ Clinic, has no room for additional doctors and space is tight for sharing with a resident.
The Osoyoos Medical Centre, across the street, has room for just one more physician, he said. Neither location has space for the kind of community health facility that Tarr envisions.
Plans in 2010 for a medical facility with condominiums on Peanut Lake by Oasis Development have fallen by the wayside due to lower demand for condominiums and difficulty attracting medical businesses. That land is now for sale.
Meanwhile, the purchaser of the former Regal Ridge offices on Main Street, Penticton-based Chase Valley Investment Corporation, hopes to attract medical and related professional to that building after the sale closes later this month.
“The difficult part is you can’t always get every doctor under the same roof because it’s like herding cats,” said Tarr, who notes that it may not be in the financial interest of all doctors to support such a plan.
“There are a lot of competing interests, but I definitely think the facility would make a big difference in small towns,” he said.
The Osoyoos Medical Centre is owned by Dr. Robert Calder.
Rotarian Roger Clinton pointed to the example of Keremeos, where medical professionals are housed under one roof.
Tarr, however, said that Interior Health subsidizes the Keremeos facility and there isn’t the money to extend this model throughout the health authority’s region.
Tarr spoke of other initiatives to make it easier for people to obtain a family physician under the GP For Me program.
The program is a joint initiative of the Government of B.C. and Doctors of B.C.
Doctors in the area have agreed to accept as patients the families of children who are new to local schools.
Tarr pointed out these are people new to the area rather than people switching doctors.
He suggested it’s hard to know how many people there actually are who don’t have a general practitioner (GP) and are looking for one.
Figures from Statistics Canada suggest that only about 15 per cent of Canadians don’t have a GP and of those about 54 per cent are happy not having a regular GP.
Extrapolated to B.C., this suggests there are about 106,000 people in B.C. who don’t have a GP but want one.
Some of those without GPs have mental health or substance abuse problems, or are disabled.
Some doctors are reluctant to accept more challenging patients, he said, adding that doctors should be taking a share of such patients rather than just selecting those they want to serve.
Tarr was skeptical about the idea of eliminating scheduled appointments in favour of allowing all patients to come as walk-ins.
Where this is done, some people wait as long as six hours, he said.
“It might work for the doc, but I’m not sure it works with the patients,” he said.
One Rotarian who is new to the community said he was told none of the doctors in town are taking new patients.
Tarr told him that doctors do go through the requests on a regular basis and do accept new patients, even if they don’t advertise it.
Still, he said, this points to the problem that Osoyoos is encouraging new people to come here, but not enough people are looking into the availability of medical services before they come.