WAIT times at Mills Memorial Hospital should decrease now that Northern Health has brought in three more part-time emergency room physicians.
Only a year ago, Mills Memorial Hospital had one full-time and one-part time doctor working the emergency room, with family doctors rotating the evening and weekend shifts.
Now there will be one full-time doctor, and a total of four part-time doctors.
“The first reason is quality [care], to have capacity in the emergency room so we can deal with the patient load,” said Dr. Jaco Fourie, northwest medical director for Northern Health which serves this region.
“Part of the quality is that patients don’t have to wait so long to see a physician when they are sick — timeliness matters,” he said.
With the emergency room open 24/7, the shifts are shared between doctors.
Northern Health ER doctors work daytime and overnights, while the family doctors from Park Ave. Medical in Terrace rotate through the evening and weekend shifts.
One of the ER doctors is Dr. Christiaan DeWit, who has been working full-time daytime shifts, employed by Northern Health.
During the evenings, the ER coverage is taken over by family doctors, and until last year, the late night shifts (midnight to 8 a.m.) have been shared by family doctors and Dr. Ehi Iyayi, who works the ER part-time.
But late last fall, the emergency room got a boost.
Northern Health hired Dr. Herman Greeff to work part-time as an ER doctor in November, with the aim of relieving the already-busy family doctors from the late night work.
The move helped ease the burden, but the ER continues to get busier and doctors there are still having a hard time managing all the needs.
That’s why Northern Health hired Dr. Natasha De Sousa in January.
She works in the afternoons when the ER is most busy, so now there are two doctors looking after all those needs.
Medical director Fourie says they opened up a fifth position last month to bolster the care even more.
Dr. Johan Laing moved here in mid-June, enticed from Saskatchewan to work in anaesthesia, but also taking part-time work in the ER.
Support for doctors is the second main reason for the new hires in the ER, said Fourie.
“It’s also to lighten the load for family physicians who live and work in Terrace,” Fourie said. “By having physicians covering the emergency room, that means that physicians here can focus on their primary care activities.”
Family doctors are already busy with their own practices but also take turns to cover ER weekend shifts and evenings from 5:30 p.m. to midnight.
Supporting them benefits everyone, he indicated.
“When they have adequate capacity, doctors don’t feel as tired, they are more focused and they have the internal resources too look after patients well,” said Fourie, adding that it’s also crucial to support them and keep them from getting burnt out.
Dr. Johnathan Moolman, one of the doctors at Park Ave. Medical, said it can be very busy for doctors, running their own practice, serving on-call patients and taking turns in the ER.
He estimated that doctors work about one evening seven-hour shift every week, as well as a weekend shift every month, despite the fact that the work is shared between 13 people.
The reason for that is that emergency room is so busy, most doctors have chosen to tag team those shifts, he said.
“Those shifts are usually double physicians. There are just a few of us who don’t work the double shifts,” Moolman explained.
“Traditionally no one did, but it’s just getting so busy… it’s getting too hard to work as a single person.”
The new doctors will hopefully ease off some of that ER work, and Fourie says they hope to recruit more family doctors to continue improving the care for patients here in Terrace and in the north.