BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Vernon can’t ignore doctor crisis

City of Vernon must work with partners to try and attract doctors to the community

Richard Rolke is a columnist and senior reporter with The Morning Star.

Richard Rolke is a columnist and senior reporter with The Morning Star.

I’ve been fortunate to have the same family physician for almost 27 years, but there are times, particularly after-hours,when he isn’t available. So, during those times, I head to the closest walk-in clinic and wait.

And wait I did in December as the lobbies were overflowing with people fighting the latest bug going around.

For many of us who already have a doctor, visiting a walk-in clinic is largely a convenience. But for a growing number ofpeople unable to find a permanent family physician, a walk-in provides their only access to medical care.

That’s why the pending closure of the Gartree Medical Clinic is causing considerable stress.

“So what now? less access to doctors in Vernon? I already can’t get a doctor in town,” wrote one person on Facebook.

“Not good at all. Less and less accessibility to basic health care for many who can’t find or access a general practitioner. VJHemerg dept will be gridlocked,” added another.

Now first, we should be clear that the physicians at Gartree, or the Fruit Union clinic that shut down last year, aren’t toblame for the situation. They are dedicated professionals who have tried to keep their offices open even as resourcesdwindled, but the reality is that one or two doctors can’t keep meeting the needs of hundreds if not thousands of patients.There is also the reality that their own personal life circumstances evolve.

Naturally, there’s been some debate on Facebook as to what can be done to address the doctor shortage, but first we musthave a sense as to why new practices aren’t opening or physicians aren’t willing to work at walk-ins. The reasons likely varyfrom some physicians not wanting the intense grind that goes along with walk-ins, to others trying to balance life andcareer, and others not wanting to live in Vernon.

“It seems to me that the problem is how to sell the idea to doctors that practicing medicine in Vernon is appealing,lucrative, positive, fulfilling, and needed,” wrote a resident on Facebook.

“How do we get more doctors here? No one seems to address this problem. How does the City of Vernon recruit doctors andsell our city to them?”

This has been an ongoing issue in smaller communities like Enderby and Lumby and they have had some success inbringing new doctors to town, but physician recruitment at Vernon city hall hasn’t been on the radar.

Obviously there are few financial incentives a municipality can provide but they can direct their marketing and extensivenetworks towards making physicians aware of what Vernon has to offer for recreation, culture and lifestyle golf in themorning and theatre at night. Our schools and various activities may be popular with doctors with young children. Realestate is still relatively reasonable compared to other parts of the country.

Following the lead of their counterparts in Enderby and Lumby, Vernon politicians need to sit down with the Interior HealthAuthority and determine a strategy to bring more doctors here. And the process stands a better chance if otherstakeholders are involved Coldstream, the regional district, MLA Eric Foster, the Okanagan Indian Band and the chamberof commerce.

Obviously there’s no guarantees doctors will embrace the PR and flock to town, but the health of not only individual residents, but the overall community, is worth fighting for.