Six months after physicians at the Victorian Community Health Centre in Kaslo declared they would no longer provide round-the-clock emergency room service, Interior Health has opted to replace those physicians with ones who will.
Last September Interior Health announced the Kaslo ER would close evenings and weekends, citing physician burnout as the reason for the change. But the decision proved so unpopular with the local community that Interior Health rescinded the change before it ever took effect, instead initiating talks with the Kaslo community health working group to find a better solution.
The health centre is funded for two full-time equivalent physician positions, which are divided into four half-time positions, so each doctor is on-call one evening out four.
After complaining about this schedule, two of the physicians have not had their contracts renewed at the Kaslo health centre.
Doctors Linda Johannson and Denis Thibodeau posted letters at the health centre informing their patients that they would be leaving their positions.
“You are likely aware of the difficulties that the physician team has had here trying to maintain services in the clinic and the emergency room,” wrote Dr. Johannson. “These difficulties have progressed to a point where I feel I can no longer provide safe, appropriate care to my patients, and [Interior Health] has elected to not renew my contact for services.”
Thibodeau didn’t specifically point to the issue of emergency room coverage in his letter. Instead, he cited his decision to open a private clinic in Kaslo. Both doctors said they would continue working at the health centre until late March. (The full letters have been included at the bottom of this story.)
On Monday, Interior Health issued a press release announcing a new physician — Dr. Annemarie DeKoker, who has been practising in Nelson — had been hired to fill one of the vacancies in Kaslo and that a locum (a temporary doctor from out of town) has agreed to work at the health centre in April, while Interior Health continues the hunt for another permanent physician.
Dr. Alan Stewart, medical director of Interior Health’s community integrated health services, said the physician turnover isn’t a major concern for the health authority.
“Kaslo is going through a transition, as we develop a new vision for the health centre,” Stewart said, referring to a strategic planning process currently underway to establish an appropriate model of care for the community.
“We’re confident we’ll be able to find the physicians to work in the community who are excited about being part of the new vision.”
An expert in rural medicine has been brought in to assist with the planning process, which includes consulting with community stakeholders to find out what they want from their local hospital.
It’s a stark contrast to the closed-door decision making that led to the announcement, and subsequent outrage, when Interior Health initially decided to close Kaslo’s emergency room last fall.
Kaslo Mayor Greg Lay said he’s pleased Interior Health is involving the community in the process, since ultimately it’s Kaslo residents who will need to change how they use the after hours emergency service if they want it to remain in the community.
“As the mayor, I’m determined to help in the process of educating the public on the proper use of the emergency room,” Lay said, noting people need to make a better attempt to visit the hospital during regular hours and only go to the ER for actual emergencies.
The mayor was pleased members of the Kaslo community health working group have been invited to sit in on the Interior Health interview process to make sure the new hires have a good idea what the community will expect from them.
“We [in Kaslo] look at doctors differently than somebody in the city. They’re prominent members of the community. There are expectations that they value our community,” Lay said. “If you’re just going to be here for one month, then gone for a month, what kind of message does that leave with the patients?”