Interior Health officials are making rounds at local hospitals and health centres this week for a face-to-face with the people who keep the $1.2 billion operation up and running.
“We try to visit every site in Interior Health once a year,” Dr. Robert Halpenny told the Trail Times Wednesday morning.
The Interior Health Authority (IHA) is often the largest employer in smaller communities, he said.
“It’s important for us to spend time and help people understand that I understand, we are a rural health authority,” continued Halpenny. “And one of the important things we do is a tour, because we’ve got so many facilities that when we look at capital issues it helps to see what we’re talking about.”
Halpenny was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the health authority in January 2010, and since that time the Kelowna-based doctor has noted challenges specific to rural health care facilities.
“The biggest one is human resources or recruitment and retention of all medical staff, not just the doctors,” he explained.
Historically, many doctors worked around the clock 365 days a year, said the CEO, adding that “those days are gone.”
Now, instead of recruiting one physician, three or four may be needed to cover around-the clock shifts, and often those doctors prefer to stay together in groups in larger hospitals.
“So now we ask,’How do we provide those services to the rural sites especially services that are directly related to acute care?”
With fewer rural doctors available, the issue becomes how to quickly transfer patients requiring specialized care to the larger centres for higher level treatment.
He said the theme he is hearing throughout the West Kootenay and Kootenay Boundary region is the need for an ability to move those patients “to the right place at the right time.”
“It’s a perception that ‘we used to have an emergency room and could look after everything,’” said Halpenny. “Well those days are gone as well. We have highly skilled nurses and doctors in our highly specialized emergency rooms that you will never replicate in the smaller sites.”
Halpenny maintains that a dedicated regional helicopter and use of telehealth in rural areas is changing the face of rural health care.
“The thing we are getting better at is communication and moving information,” he said. “We are really working on that, including the high acuity response team in Trail, which is a real positive.”“