After finding out first hand what some of the challenges Kootenay Boundary communities face, the chief executive officer for Interior Health wrapped up a tour of facilities at Trail’s hospital Wednesday.
Dr. Robert Halpenny announced an additional $5.9 million will be spent on residential care across Interior Health this year.
“As we see the complexity of patients going into residential care has gone up, very often we have complex patients who have either dementia, Alzheimers, very often they have chronic diseases and very often have lost the ability to walk,” he said. “So it’s having the correct care so that either those people can improve, or certainly that there health status doesn’t diminish.”
The funding will go toward hiring four coordinators to maintain care standards in all of its residential facilities, one employee which will be based in the Kootenays.
In addition, the boost will go toward delivering care to residents – increasing the direct care that residents receive to 3.15 hours per resident a day from 2.85.
Halpenny started his tour in Nakusp, before moving onto New Denver, Nelson, Castlegar and lastly Trail. While he made time to meet with on-the-ground medical staff, he also connected with community mayors to hear their take on local health care and what their concerns are.
“The thing I’m hearing in the real rural communities, which is the same thing, is physician recruitment and the inability that we have to recruit to rural areas,” he said.
“In the past, physicians did their own recruiting and now it’s kind of fallen to us. So we’re kind of coordinating and helping communities by saying, ‘It’s a three-pronged approach, the physicians have to help us, we have to help the communities and IH participates as well.”
While it can be difficult to attract budding professionals to rural parts of the province, he said the introduction of a medical program in Kelowna should have a positive impact.
The new southern medical program is the fourth in UBC’s MD undergraduate program, which aims to improve upon the number of rural students seeking medical careers, while also allowing students to complete their training in rural and underserved communities where they are more likely to return to practice once their training is complete. Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital has been established as a teaching hospital and will have two third-year UBC medical students on board for a year starting in September.
Another challenge for rural communities is maintaining services and staff, particularly when it comes to demanding on-call work, Halpenny said.
“After a number of years physicians say, ‘I’m tired of this, I work all day long and then I take call all night.’ And we’re trying to say, ‘We want to keep this emergency room open’ so we come up with a dilemma of do we say we have to consolidate the emergency room just to keep that physician in town or the physician leaves and we got nothing,” he said. “There is no easy solution to this.”
Many residents were up in arms when cuts were announced at the Trail hospital last year, which also weighed on skilled employees who provide needed care at the regional hospital.
But with doctors leading the protest, operating room times that were to be reduced to 16 hours per week from 20 were maintained, more or less.
Shifting some procedures out of the traditional operating room at the Trail hospital is expected to decrease the number of people waiting for surgeries while maintaining work for the hospital’s five anesthetists.
Halpenny stressed that the health authority is looking at health care through a regional scope rather than at individual facilities.
But its concept of consolidating while expanding hasn’t been received well across the board.
“How do we work with Nelson, who has operating room capabilities to do lots of day-care procedures when we have the same thing here? How do we ensure that we’re maintaining the skills and capabilities of both those sites? So its one service for people across two sites,” he said.
“The communities perceive this as a loss, rather than saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I have access to higher specialties then I had in the past – it’s a perception.”