Long hours, lack of staff taking its toll on doctors

If Health Minister Mike de Jong needs any clarification, he only needs to look at the situation at Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital.

If Health Minister Mike de Jong needs any clarification on his contention there isn’t a shortage of specialist anesthesiologists in the province, he only needs to look at the situation at Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital.

In June one of the specialist anesthesiologists at KBRH resigned and relocated to Ontario, leaving the hospital’s department one short of its minimum requirement of five.

The department is required to provide seamless, 24-hour, seven-day-per-week coverage of elective and emergency anesthesia care to the 100,000 inhabitants of the Kootenay Boundary.

But the department, along with local and regional administration in Interior Health Authority, has been unsuccessful in recruiting someone to fill the permanent full-time position since June, despite an “active” campaign.

To date, the department has not had a single applicant interested in the permanent full-time position.

De Jong stated last week there were 125 active, qualified and licensed anesthesiologists who were looking for work in B.C.

“I … ask you to please put me in contact with these 125 anesthesiologists,” said Dr. Kallie Honeywood of the Department of Anesthesiology at KBRH, in a Dec. 18 letter to de Jong.

“Our Department of Anesthesia is in desperate need of at least one additional permanent, full-time anesthesiologist to join our department.”

As a result of the inability to recruit either locum or permanent specialist anesthesiologist, each doctor works a 24-hour shift, on call, every one in four days, and a 72-hour shift from Friday to Monday every fourth week.

When one of the members is away for education or vacation, this frequency increases to one in three 24-hour call and 72-hour weekends.

“That leaves three of us to do the work for what is essentially five people,” she said. “It gets to be, certainly, exhausting, and it is difficult on our families.”

Dr. Honeywood was recruited in January, 2011 to replace a retiring anesthesiologist at KBRH.