Not many medical clinics in the Salmon Arm area maintain waiting lists, those that do have hundreds waiting to sign on with a family doctor. (Contributed)

Salmon Arm family doctor shortage putting health-care needs at risk

City clinics report having long wait lists, not accepting new patients

Health-care needs of Salmon Arm families and seniors are going unmet because of the ongoing doctor shortage experienced throughout B.C.’s Interior.

Some medical practices report having waitlists in the hundreds, while others aren’t accepting new patients due to lack of physicians. This is all while doctors, eager to work in the region, fight a convoluted hiring process.

The Observer reached out on social media to hear people’s experiences about finding a family doctor.

The responses received paint a picture of frustration and increased health risks to those in need of continuous care.

“I’m back to almost where it began.”

Carmyn Block moved to Salmon Arm from Saskatchewan one year ago and began experiencing problems with the health-care system straight away. Block has had ongoing health issues for over 20 years. While she said they are non-life-threatening, they are very much “life-altering.”

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While she was living in Saskatchewan, progress was being made on her treatment, with a biopsy being determined as the next stage in Block’s care. When she moved to B.C. though, the process stopped. Block called several medical clinics in the area asking to be put on with a family doctor. Unsuccessful, she resorted to walk-in clinics where she said one symptom is addressed at a time, but her medical issues involve several interrelated symptoms.

“I’m back to almost where it began,” she said. “To not be able to get the support here, it’s really frustrating.”

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Block is now seeking the help of a naturopathic doctor but says the same issues could arise.

“All they’re doing is treating the symptoms, they will not be able to do some of the procedures that potentially need to be done,” she said. “I do need to have that recognized medical personnel but at least I can get some relief from the symptoms whereas right now I can’t.”

“It’s pretty much, if you want to see somebody, you just go to the walk-in clinic.”

Tiffany Loewen and her family moved to Salmon Arm five years ago. After struggling to find a family doctor that could take them on she was eventually successful. Even then, their doctor worked only two days a week and appointments had to be scheduled a week or two in advance. This went on until last summer when their doctor moved away, and their caseload was given to another doctor at the clinic. Now Loewan said she and her family have to book appoints even farther in advance.

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“He’s so busy – it’s three weeks, four weeks advance notice for booking an appointment. It’s pretty much, if you want to see somebody, you just go to the walk in clinic.”

“I think there are days where we avoid going to the doctor because we know that it’s going to be a wait,” Loewen said. “There’s a situation where maybe I should have taken my kids to the doctor and followed up on something.”

When Loewen first moved to the area, she was told the population was mainly retirees. Now she believes this might not be completely true. Having seen the well-rostered youth hockey teams and burgeoning schools, Loewen thinks the need for family doctors is increasingly more important.

“We’re baby boomers and there’s a heck of a lot of us.”

Sally Handley and her 68-year-old husband Dean also managed to find a family doctor, but largely rely on walk-in clinics for their day-to-day health concerns.

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After their regular family doctor moved away over the summer, Dean signed on with a family doctor who makes a three-week-on, three week-off-rotation between the Edmonton and Sicamous medical clinic. Although scheduling can be difficult to manage, Sally Handley is grateful they have a physician at all.

“You have to be understanding of the times right now; we’re baby boomers and there’s a heck of a lot of us,” Sally Handley said. “A lot of us, our health conditions are not that great and we are putting a bit of a drag on the medical system right now.

“We’re just fortunate, that’s all I can say.”

“We need two doctors today.”

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Gareth Jones, the owner of Bastion Medical Centre, said that while the centre expects to receive another physician in 2020, more are needed immediately.

The Observer reached out to nine medical clinics in and around Salmon Arm, seven responded confirming they were not accepting new patients for family doctors or physicians. Of those seven, two maintain waiting lists. The Maple Tree Medical Clinic in Salmon Arm has a waiting list of approximately 150 people while Bastion Medical Centre’s list has over 1,200 names.

“We need two doctors today,” said Jones, who went on to comment on the state of the doctor hiring in B.C. “This is a very complex, very big issue which has been a failure for as long as I’m aware of and, unfortunately, it’s putting patients at risk everyday.”

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@CameronJHT
Cameron.thomson@saobserver.net

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