One doctor could be left serving 7,200 people.
That’s the prospect facing residents of Enderby, the rural area and the Splatsin First Nation when one of two practising physicians leaves in early 2013.
“It’s very troubling,” said Howie Cyr, Enderby mayor.
Many residents don’t have the ability to drive to Vernon or Salmon Arm for appointments.
“I feel badly for seniors who are stressed about where they will get their health care from,” said Cyr.
Jackie Pearase, regional director, is concerned residents in areas like Kingfisher may have to travel some distance for care.
“It may give people the thought of moving to Vernon or Salmon Arm,” she said.
“If your health is in precarious condition, you want to be close to your doctor.”
Enderby had five physicians but those numbers have shrunk by three over nine months for various reasons. Presently, there are two at a private clinic and none at the Interior Health Authority’s health centre.
Recruitment is underway and IHA has told Cyr there could be two new doctors by next summer.
“They are doing the best they can but summer is a long ways off,” said Cyr, adding that an interim plan is required to cover the pending vacancy in January.
“That’s hollow reassurance for our residents.”
Cyr believes part of the solution rests with IHA and the provincial government changing the funding model for doctors.
“Currently, there is a limit to how much they can bill per patient per day,” he said.
“The model was put into place 20 years ago. We had a doctor move to Merritt and they are likely doing better financially there than here. It’s a disincentive for Enderby.”
As part of recruitment, Pearase suggests a possible focus may be foreign physicians.
“We want doctors who want to stay here and see the benefit of living in a small community,” she said.
Dr. Alan Stewart, IHA senior medical director for community and residential services, says one new doctor will start in August, and there are talks with other individuals.
“The discussions are progressing nicely,” he said.
“Enderby is a terrific spot for a primary care physician and we are looking for long-term commitments from the physicians we are recruiting.”
IHA is also working on an interim plan between January and August.
“We will have locum physicians, itinerant physicians that work around the province,” said Stewart.
Stewart, who holds a clinic in Enderby twice a month, also points out that there is a nurse practitioner at the health centre.
“We are trying to fill the gap and we are being successful,” he said.