Ponderosa Primary Care Centre in Penticton is considered a model for care clinics going forward by the South Okanagan Division of Family Practice. (Monique Tamminga)

Ponderosa Primary Care Centre in Penticton is considered a model for care clinics going forward by the South Okanagan Division of Family Practice. (Monique Tamminga)

Mayor of Oliver calls on province to address South Okanagan doctor shortage

‘None of the people in our acquaintance that we’ve come to know here in Oliver have their own doctor’

Oliver Mayor Martin Johanssen hopes that his town can set the South Okanagan on the path for better primary health care.

Johanssen has assembled a resolution for the Southern Interior Local Government Association (SILGA) calling for more funding specifically for team-based primary care clinics like the Ponderosa Primary Care Clinic in Penticton.

“There’s no silver bullet,” said Johanssen. “We have to explore this from every angle and try and get some traction somewhere.”

A Growing Need for Care

There’s a desperate need for more primary care in the South Okanagan community, where there are currently nine general practitioners, some of which have either small practices or work part-time.

The Nk’Mip Resource Centre Health Clinic in Oliver, run by the Osoyoos Indian Band, lost its attached doctor in December 2020.

According to Statistics Canada, the Town of Oliver had a population of 4,928 as of the last census in 2016, while Penticton’s Ponderosa clinic is home to 7000 patients who are cared for by six family doctors, two nurse practitioners, two specialists, two nurses, five allied health professionals and seven administrative staff.

Some people, like Carl Gustafson, are lucky enough to have had a doctor before they moved that they’re able to stay in contact with.

“None of the people in our acquaintance that we’ve come to know here in Oliver have their own doctor,” said Gustaffson. “I have a doctor that I do some telemedicine with down on the coast and some specialists, and they keep asking me ‘when are you going to get a doctor up there?’”

Gustafson moved to the area ten months ago. He and his wife immediately joined the regional Patient Attachment list, which according to the South Okanagan Similkameen Division of Family Practice (SOS DFP) currently has 5,000 residents, with 4,500 attached through it since 2019.

Although the South Okanagan General Hospital is currently fully staffed according to Interior Health, as recently as 2018 the emergency department had to offer limited hours and services due to a lack of doctors.

Finding Space for Healing

Getting funding for the staff is part of the process of sending rural growth plans and getting them approved by the provincial government, but funding to provide the clinic space for those healthcare workers is lacking.

Ponderosa received $340,000 in funding for the renovations and equipment to get the facility up and running.

Having that clinic space, with the attached administrative staff and allied healthcare workers like dieticians and physical therapists helps in attracting doctors to communities.

“It no longer makes sense or is financially viable for them to invest in clinic space and equipment to the same extent as before. And they are looking for others to help run the business of the clinic in partnership with them,” said Tracy St. Claire, the executive director for the SOS DFP. “Ponderosa successfully recruited two new family physicians in the past five months to replace retiring doctors and there is interest from other doctors to join the clinic but space limits further growth.”

The team-based care model is one that even those not involved in government or medicine can appreciate.

“I don’t think the answer is individual doctors’ practices. We’ve moved to a few places in B.C. over the last 20 years,” said Gustafson. “We spent a year on Vancouver Island, and they had just set up something they called a primary care network clinic. “

The lack of doctors is also one that is only going to grow, as the communities of the South Okanagan like Oliver continue to expand. Ponderosa has proven so popular it has already filled up.

“It’s already packed, it’s only taking names off the list, and it’s in Penticton. But if you travel around Oliver or Penticton, there’s construction and houses going up all over the place,” said Gustafson. “The property market in the Okanagan is still on fire, and the population is growing.”

Out of the 81 general practitioners in the South Okanagan Similkameen, about 25 are expected to retire within the next five to 10 years according to the SOS DFP.

A Resolution to Provide Support

Johanssen is calling for the province to help people who don’t have necessary access to care with additional funding for primary care clinics to communities with approved primary care network growth plans.

The mayor’s resolution is one of four that Oliver council approved on Feb. 22. to send to SILGA, which is made up of elected officials from 37 cities, towns, villages, and districts in B.C.

After SILGA, the resolution would then pass to the Union of B.C. Municipalities for debate. If accepted, it would be taken and presented to the province to follow up on.

The resolution is just one avenue that the community of Oliver is exploring, including discussions with local doctors, the SOS DFP, Interior Health and the Ministry of Health.

“We’ll need to get the community behind it at the end of the day, when it comes to funding,” said Johanssen. “I believe, and I know a lot of people believe that these team-based clinics are the way to the future.”

Johanssen noted that there are many difficulties for municipalities that want to set up clinic space, pointing to the municipality of Summerland’s plans to incorporate clinic space in their planned aquatic and community Centre.

He pointed to the Community Charter’s restrictions on municipalities providing assistance to a business, which would prevent the town from providing support to either property owners or the doctors who are working in a place that the town doesn’t own.

“We would be looking at getting the community behind the effort, and working with the [South Okanagan] Medical Foundation for example, to do community fundraising,” said Johanssen. “That’s the other way to do it, through community fundraising.”

Interior Health is also seeking funding for Primary Care Networks in the South Okanagan Similkameen, although their request for $1.4 million from the South Okanagan Similkameen Hospital District was rejected at the Jan. 21 meeting.

SILGA will debate the resolutions and decide whether to accept them during their Annual General Meeting on April 28.

To report a typo, email: editor@pentictonwesternnews.com.


@PentictonNews
newstips@pentictonwesternnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Municipal Government

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison. Photo courtesy Conservative Party of Canada.
Kootenay-Columbia MP pans federal budget

Conservative Rob Morrison says budget doesn’t have a plan for long-term spending priorities

A view of the Jordan River from the trail in the area, during the summer. There are two new gravel pits up for consideration by the province. The area is deemed to be ecologically sensitive. (Jocelyn Doll/Revelstoke Review)
LETTER: When did Revelstoke become gravel pit central?

Two new gravel pits are being proposed near the Jordan River

Photo: pixabay.com
Morning Start: Why do dogs like squeaky toys?

Your morning start for Tuesday, April 20, 2021

People are shown at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, April 18, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
211 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health over the weekend

Currently, there are 875 active cases of the virus in the region

A nurse prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. As of April 19, more than 230,000 doses have been administered across the Interior Health region. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press)
More than 230K doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered across Interior Health

A total of 220,216 first doses and 13,775 second doses have been given to residents across the B.C. Interior

FILE – NDP Leader John Horgan, right, and local candidate Mike Farnworth greet one another with an elbow bump during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday, September 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. won’t be using random individual road stops to enforce travel rules: Safety Minister

Minister Mike Farnworth says travel checks only being considered at major highway junctions, ferry ports

Police are seeking the public’s assistance identifying a man who allegedly robbed a Vernon business the evening of Wednesday, April 14, 2021. (RCMP photo)
Police search for man who allegedly robbed Vernon business with weapon

The suspect is said to have threatened an employee before running off with two bottles of liquor

Canada Post has moved up parcel delivery deadlines within Canada in response to unprecedented holiday demand during COVID-19 but is still telling Canadians to expect delays. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Mail suspended at Kelowna condo after mask-less residents spotted in lobby

Residents were asked to pick up their mail at Canada Post’s office on Baillie Avenue

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Christy Clark, who was premier from 2011 to 2017, is the first of several present and past politicians to appear this month before the Cullen Commission, which is investigating the causes and impact of B.C.’s money-laundering problem over the past decade. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
Christy Clark says she first learned of money-laundering spike in 2015

The former B.C. premier testified Tuesday she was concerned the problem was ‘apparently at an all-time high’

This cougar alert was posted near Chilliwack after a cougar was reported in the area on April 10, 2021. (Black Press - File)
Dog killed by cougar near Penticton

The band issued a warning to keep an eye on children and pets in the area

The city asking the public if they want to pursue legal action against the province and their decision to override the city on the Victory Church issue. (Jesse Day Western News)
Penticton to sue province over homeless shelter

City council voted unanimously to go forward with legal action

BC Wildfire Service file.
So far, fire season in Kamloops region about average

Unseasonably warm temperatures as of late are drying out ground fuel

Most Read