More headaches for Hardy patients

VIHA and LWG seek the cure to Port Hardy's health woes as clinic announces closure

PORT HARDY— News that Dr. Andre de Wit’s practice is to close has left local patients feeling a bit peaked.

The Port Hardy Medical Associates will close its doors at the end of September after a year of unsuccessfully attempting to recruit new physicians. In a statement, Dr. de Wit expressed his appreciation to the community for their support since his arrival in 1997.

The impending departure of Dr. de Wit, in the wake of the June departure of Dr. Izak Adriaan van der Vyver, takes a little of the luster off recent hiring successes. A new physician has been hired at Dr. Lee’s clinic and is scheduled to start in August. In addition, the interviewing process for two new Nurse Practitioners at the Port Hardy Hospital has recently been completed, with more information on the new hires expected this weekend.

In a statement, Mayor Bev Parnham pointed out that, with the arrival of the new physician and Dr. de Wit’s departure, Port Hardy will still have three physicians at the end of September but that was far short of the six or more that the community would ideally have.

She expressed her gratitude for the extra work being put in by Dr. Lee to ensure that the Emergency Room remained minimally affected, but said she had expressed to VIHA her “huge concerns and frustrations with this lack of care for our community.”

She urged the public to contact VIHA and let them know how the physician shortage is affecting the community. “To those in Victoria,” she said, “we are just a small community at the top end of the island. Let’s show them the human face of our town and let them know that this situation is just not good enough!”

The Mayor will rejoin the Mt. Waddington Local Working Group next week to review VIHA’s response to the  report the group presented in May.

The LWG, made up of medical representatives, First Nations and community leaders, was convened in late 2011 to make recommendations to VIHA on improving the quality and sustainability of health care in the region. The central recommendations that they presented were that funding and recruitment models needed to change.

Currently funding is made available based on a per capita model and this does not adequately reflect the higher needs of a rural community, the LWG report pointed out. They urge that a new funding model should be adopted that incorporates the acuity and complexity of the patients’ needs.

The other central tenet of their proposals is that a new strategy be developed, aimed at better recruiting and retaining health care professionals to the area.

VIHA has since reviewed the report and submitted its response to the LWG. Following its meeting, the LWG will issue an official statement on the response, with early indications being that the response is very positive.

In the short-term, the goal continues to be to provide uninterrupted emergency care at Port Hardy Hospital. ER locums have been recruited to fill on-call positions and the arrival of the new NPs will enhance patients’ access to primary care.

Family physicians are not direct employees of the health authority but, when they give notice of closure or retirement, VIHA takes steps to advertise the vacancy and the soon-to-be vacant position will be listed on the VIHA and Health Match BC sites.

Alison Mitchell, VIHA’s Senior Manager of Rural Health for Mt. Waddington, affirmed that “VIHA is very aware of the physician shortage in Port Hardy, and tremendous efforts, in collaboration with the Local Working Group, Mt. Waddington leadership team, physicians, our Aboriginal partners and local government officials with assistance from VIHA’s recruitment office, are underway to recruit and retain physicians to this and other Mt. Waddington communities.”