The South Okanagan Similkameen needs doctors and one way to attract them is to give them support for providing the best care they can give.
That is the thought driving the development of team-based primary care clinics like the Ponderosa Primary Care Centre in Penticton.
“The goal of Ponderosa is to attract physicians, nurse practitioners and other healthcare professionals to the region. Physicians and nurse practitioners are looking for clinics with multiple providers working in a team with other healthcare professionals,” said Tracy St. Claire, the executive director of the South Okanagan Similkameen Division of Family Practice (SOS DFP). “They also want meaningful involvement in decision-making, but without responsibility for day-to-day business management.”
Clinics like Ponderosa, which currently serves 7,000 patients with six family doctors, two nurse practitioners, two specialists, two nurses, five allied health professionals and seven administrative staff, are how the SOS DFP want to see future care centres, if they can get the funding for more.
Finding that funding is currently one of the difficulties for any further clinics in the area.
The South Okanagan Similkameen Hospital District voted on Jan. 7 to maintain their financial model of providing funds to Interior Health for projects and not to provide funds for separate physician recruitment. On Jan. 21, the district board voted to approve the IH budget; excluding $1.4 million in Primary Care Network funding for expanding the services IH provides.
Ponderosa’s $340,000 in renovation and equipment costs were funded by the Ministry of Health’s primary care network funding as a prototype clinic, a source that currently isn’t available for other clinics.
Ponderosa, operating in Penticton since November 2019, was designed collaboratively by local doctors, nurse practitioners, Penticton Indian Band and Interior Health staff as part of the area’s Primary Care Network service plan for Penticton, Summerland and Okanagan Falls. Two of the doctors at Ponderosa were recruited in the last five months, with more interested in the clinic but limited by the lack of space, according to the SOS DFP.
“Experience elsewhere and at Ponderosa show that once the clinic is built, the operations will cover the ongoing costs and make our area more attractive for physician and nurse practitioner recruitment,” said St. Claire.
That success is a promising one for the future, especially for other communities like Oliver, which is facing a shortage of physicians and a need for clinic space.
“The landscape for primary care funding has changed in the past decade. Up until now, family doctors have traditionally set up and managed their own practices. They would own or lease their space, pay for and maintain all of the equipment, hire the staff and manage the day-to-day operations,” said St. Claire.
“This model is no longer affordable in most communities as real estate prices rise and as doctors have more choices to work where they don’t need to provide their own space and run the entire business.”
Going forward, with no clear avenue for receiving funding from the Ministry of Health or from the SOS Hospital District, primary clinics may have to see their start-up funding sourced from other avenues, such as local municipalities, the SOS Medical Foundation and the Community Foundation of the South Okanagan Similkameen. Some of the discussions between the SOS DFP, IH, and local First Nations and governments have explored how to deal with the challenges for space.
The SOS DFP has also started exploring models of financing the start-up costs and paying them back over a number of years once the clinic is in operation.
One thing is clear, if the communities of the South Okanagan Similkameen want more doctors, and to tackle the 5,000 long list of unattached patients, there will need to be some way to fund it.
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