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KBRH strives to fill gaps in anesthesiology department

The Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital’s anesthesiology department struggles to fill vacant positions, says a departing doctor.

The Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital’s anesthesiology department has been functioning at a reduced level as the hospital struggles to fill vacant positions, says a departing doctor.

Dr. Kallie Honeywood said when she leaves KBRH June 5 there will only be three people left in the five-person anesthesiology department, making it difficult to cover all of the on call services that a regional hospital needs to function.

And, despite a move two weeks ago in which the B.C. Anesthesiologists Society rescinded a threat to withdraw services province-wide in a contract dispute with the B.C. government, KBRH has been at an abridged service level since another anesthesiologist resigned last fall, Dr. Honeywood said.

“We’re already functioning at those levels because we are so short staffed,” she said. “The job action … is what we are doing on a daily basis. We can’t reduce services anymore because we are already so short staffed.”

In order for the department to cover the on call work, and because no locums have come to cover off for the vacant position when people take vacation or are away, the number of people left in the department to do the work means elective surgery is curtailed.

“We are just barely keeping our heads above water covering the emergency surgical work,” Dr. Honeywood said.

Although the Interior Health Authority (IHA) has been recruiting to get the fifth position filled, KBRH has had some success with locums — people coming in for a short period of time — while other physicians have come in to explore the situation, said Ingrid Hampf, acute care area director for Kootenay Boundary.

“It’s not ideal. We definitely know that having a full team of five (anesthetists) who are dedicated to Kootenay Boundary is our goal,” she said.

With the announcement of Dr. Honeywood leaving, the effort to fill the position has stepped up, Hampf said, with advertisements going out globally for the position. It was from overseas in New Zealand where the IHA’s fourth anesthetist was signed and will be on staff by the end of summer or early September.

In the meantime, KBRH will ensure the remaining anesthetists can actually provide service but

also have some time for themselves, Hampf pointed out. She said they are working with the anesthetists on a plan should the IHA not be able to fill those gaps.

“But it is really premature for us at this point (to speculate) because we certainly have a lot of the hours covered until June,” she explained. “And we do know that typically in the summer months we actually do reduce our surgical volumes because surgeons are off and a lot of patients don’t want to have surgery if they can avoid it in the months of July and August.”

But Dr. Honeywood said the workload she sustained at KBRH destroyed her ability to do her job. The amount of work she has had to do doesn’t allow her to enjoy any of the aspects of the lifestyle she moved here to delve into.

“I’m leaving because I can’t foresee anything changing here, and I’m not willing to commit the next 25 years of my career to this lifestyle,” she said.

Hampf said that isn’t the case with the remaining doctors, nor will service be curtailed at any point because they won’t be able to cover it all. The IHA is working to ensure there will be locum coverage in the department so anesthetists are not overbooked and overworked so they can provide safe care, said Hampf.

“That fifth anesthetist is absolutely critical even though we’ve got the fourth coming at the end of the month. It’s still a critical recruitment for us to get that fifth anesthetist in,” she said. “That way, it ensures that each of our anesthetists can provide quality, and still have a balance with the other part of their life.”

Two weeks ago the government won a temporary injunction against the B.C. Anesthesiologists Society to block any job action. A judge was to hear arguments later this month on whether the injunction should be made permanent, but Interior Health Authority president Robert Halpenny said the promise by the Society not to withdraw services has led to the cancellation of the injunction hearing.

The promise came after the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons sent a letter to the Society and the B.C. Medical Association telling them the issues in dispute must be addressed through the existing negotiations with the province on physician services.

The provincial society had requested a seat at the conciliation table with the B.C. Medical Association and the Ministry of Health as they try to negotiate the physician master agreement.

with files from The Canadian Press