Like virtually every other community in British Columbia, Campbell River has a doctor shortage.
And the Campbell River and District Division of Family Practice and the Campbell River Medical Staff Association, has appealed to City Council for its help in alleviating the situation.
“City Council is not always the first thing you think of when trying to address the physician shortage,” Dr. Jordyn Vanderveen said at the Jan. 12 regular city council meeting where she was appearing as a delegation. “However, other communities are working with their city councils to work towards something together.”
Dr. Vanderveen was joined by Dr. Sol Gregory of the Medical Staff Association and outlined the extent of the city’s shortage of doctors. Campbell River currently has 12 family practice physician and six specialist physician vacancies. In the last 18 months, there have been eight family doctors who have left the community “and gone unreplaced,” Dr. Vanderveen said. Those doctors represent between five and 1,000 patients or more.
In total, the 18 vacancies represent 6,000 to 8,000 patients without a family doctor.
“That’s a significant number of people who previously had a family doctor and no longer do,” Dr. Vanderveen said. “This is not a new issue for the province but it is new to Campbell River and (is) growing.”
The relevance of this situation is that it means longer wait lists for specialists both in the operating room and in clinics. It also means minimal access to urgent or episodic care.
“Even if you do not have a family physician, getting to see somebody is increasingly difficult as you will attest to if you go to any of the walk-ins (clinics) who are open,” Dr. Vanderveen said. “This puts an increased burden on our emergency room, which sometimes is threatened to be put on diversion or have a closure, even here in town.”
Clinics and facilities in smaller communities further north on the Island have regularly been experiencing operational closures due to staffing and other issues over the last year.
“Even in Campbell River, there are significant diversions that have been put in place for other departments such as the maternity department, meaning pregnant women in town here – sometimes when in labor – are sent down-Island because we simply don’t have an OB (obstetrician) who’s available on that day,” Dr. Vanderveen said.
These issues have an impact on the community because it makes Campbell River “a less-attractive community for new businesses, for the citizens and increases the level of care that our citizens require as there is a decrease in the overall health of the community,” she said.
So, what can the city do, she asked rhetorically? Well, other communities are working with their city councils towards a plan of action. Dr. Vanderveen put forward a list of suggestions:
The city could put together a “welcome package” for new physicians that would include coupons, gift cards to experiences and restaurants in the area. This helps if a new or training physicians decides to stay. Even if they don’t decide to say, it still presents Campbell River as an attractive place to come to.
The city can be present at recruitment events to promote the general amenities in the community.
The city can also prioritize the permitting of health care facilities, like approving clinic expansions or construction. This increases opportunities for these clinics to accept new doctors and, therefore, new patients sooner.
The city could also help increase access to daycare for health workers involved in all aspects of the healthcare system.
Dr. Vanderveen said that a big aspect of the physician shortage is the retention of physicians in training or others considering the community as an option for their practice. She said the retention rate for “return of service physicians” is “not great.” Return of service physicians are ones who are here for two years to fulfill an obligation or contract like when receiving a subsidy or are an international medical grad who is doing a residency in Canada. They end up not staying for various family or cultural reasons but engaging them could convince more of them to stay and set up a practice.
But what the community really has to do is recruit the people who are interested in Campbell River as a community, Dr. Vanderveen said.
“Because there’s a good thing here,” she said. “We have a great medical community and we have a great general community. But we just need to show people what that is. And then there’s a few rub points like daycare access, like increasing cost of living and like the significant increased call burden that somebody in our community is doing.”
After the presentation, Coun. Susan Sinnott put forward a motion that city staff prepare a report setting out an action plan to “keep this top of mind” and address the four action requests of city council Dr. Vanderveen put forward. Her motion was passed.