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Locals now driving to Kitimat for medical care

Shortage leaves thousands without a family doctor

Terrace and area residents are now driving to Kitimat for medical care because of the growing shortage of family doctors here.

Two Kitimat doctors, Dr. Howard Mills and Dr. Claire Feenan, both now report an increase in Terrace patients in response to the shortage.

“There are at least 10,000 unattached patients in Terrace since half the doctors have retired. What’s more, another three doctors will be leaving Terrace soon,” said Mills last week.

“We’ve sometimes taken on as many as 10 new patients with their families per day. Unfortunately, this isn’t sustainable for a busy two-doctor practice.”

Dr. Feenan said she has seen a “massive increase in the number of Terrace patients registering on a daily basis for a GP (general practitioner)”.

Dr. Mills said the shortage of doctors in Terrace and the overflow to Kitimat of patients provided an incentive for Kitimat to build an all-encompassing clinic with low rentals to keep and attract more medical staff to the town.

READ MORE: Terrace doctor shortage getting worse

For now, the Terrace medical community is relying on doctors from the outside, called locums, on short term contracts to try and fill the gaps while attempts to find permanent family physicians continue.

“These physicians can meet some of the community needs while we recruit permanent physicians to practice in the community,” said the Northern Health Authority in a statement released last week.

There are 13 family doctors now in Terrace but three are leaving within months, which will drop the number of resident family physicians to 10, approximately half of what’s required for the population of Terrace and area.

The Northern Health Authority, which recruits for hospitals and other of its health care facilities, indicates it’s working with local doctors to find between 14 and 16 physicians to move to Terrace.

So far, three out-of-country physicians who received further training in Canada are due to start work here this summer, indicates the health authority.

One other international medical graduate is also to start work in the emergency room at Mills Memorial Hospital.

The international physicians come from a program started in 2015 by the provincial government along with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C., which licences physicians, the Doctors of B.C., which is the professional association of physicians and surgeons, and other bodies connected to health care.

For physicians from other countries who already have credentials from their home countries and who then pass a series of exams in B.C. and an assessment of their skills in the field, the program is a pathway to obtaining a family practice licence in the province.

READ MORE: Province to boost ER services at Mills Memorial

But first the physicians must agree to work in an under-served community for two years with one of those communities being Terrace.

The hope of the international program is that the physicians who do agree to work in more rural and remote communities will stay on once their commitment has ended.

At the same time, Northern Health also employs a team of recruiters to find doctors, nurses and other medical professionals and one of those recruiters is based in Terrace.

As a specific recruiting incentive, the provincial health ministry is also providing more money to Northern Health to increase the number of salaried physician positions at Mills Memorial Hospital. Details have yet to be released.

Northern Health says it’s also banking on physicians being attracted by a new Mills Memorial Hospital, which will be roughly twice the size of the current facility and offer high level medical care. But there are several years of planning yet to happen before construction starts.

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