Seven new physicians could be working in Terrace by September, according to a senior healthcare official.
“Our recruitment efforts have really borne fruit,” said Northern Health Authority’s northwest medical director Dr. Jaco Fourie over the phone.
Attracting and retaining family doctors has been a high priority for Northern Health, who started a community recruitment campaign earlier this year. The authority also secured provincial money to increase the number of doctor positions in the emergency room at Mills Memorial Hospital.
|Dr. Jaco Fourie|
The need for more doctors in the greater Terrace detachment area has grown in severity recently, with three physicians stopping their practices in a two month period this summer. The shortage left over 12,000 residents in a detachment area of 31,000 — at least one in three people — without a family physician, according to Fourie.
But he said recruitment efforts have increased interest in Terrace for physicians considering a new practice.
“We were quite effective in a very short period of time,” he said.
The Northwest Regional Hospital District recently committed $60,00 to aid in the recruitment and retention of physicians to address the shortage of available doctors in the region. The district also received support from the newly established Terrace Physician Recruitment Committee, comprised of local stakeholders including the City of Terrace, the Chamber of Commerce, the Terrace Rotary Club and representatives from the Nass Valley.
Fourie said that partnership between Northern Health and community organizations has been instrumental in attracting more physicians to Terrace, with offers of support ranging from accommodation for site visits to the donation of duplex housing for short-term physician use.
“The accommodation that was purchased and donated by a philanthropic family in Terrace has been hugely influential to accommodate these physicians and their families… there’s definitely a spirit of optimism, a renewed spirit of optimism, about where we’re going with primary care,” he said.
These recruitment developments come amidst several other changes within Terrace’s medical landscape.
Dr. Eloise Laing started her new position when the Spruce Medical Clinic opened June 1, joining a team of three other doctors who moved their practice from Park Avenue Medical Clinic. Expected to join them in August will be Dr. Carla Gemeinhardt and Dr. Jordan Hynd, with Dr. Nic Moody starting in September.
Dr. Kyle McIver will be moving from Spruce Medical to work out of the new H.G. Health Centre, expected to open in August, joined by Dr. Roberts Sunday Ugbekile.
The Park Avenue Medical Clinic/Lazelle Medical Clinic is awaiting the arrival of two physicians currently undergoing assessments through BC academic programs. A third recent UBC graduate, Dr. Sasha Langille-Rowe, starts a long-term locum in August and has signed a contract to start a permanent practice in Terrace in February 2019.
If the three physicians awaiting evaluation results are approved, Fourie said they will increase the number of family doctors from 10 to 17 by September, with the hopes of increasing that number to 21 by February.
“So in effect, if we’re successful, we’ll be doubling the manpower by spring,” he said.
The number of physicians working full-time as opposed to part-time is a “mixed bag” according to Fourie, who said nobody is working less than two days a week. He also said all incoming physicians will be offered contracts to work part-time, fixed-pay positions at Mills Memorial as part of the hospital’s emergency room call group. So far, Dr. Langille-Rowe, who is joining the Park Avenue and Lazelle Medical clinic group, has signed on.
“I do not believe that in the medium term [six months] that we’re going to have any difficulty covering those contracts, but a lot hinges on what’s happening towards February,” Fourie said.
If the health authority’s target number of new physicians is met, the number of patients being seen with part-time physicians versus full-time physicians “should suffice to attach almost every single patient to a physician in the northwest Terrace area.”
“We pulled out all the stops at Northern Health as well as with the community organization, that partnership was immensely powerful. And the word got out that Terrace is open for business and we are keen to attract vibrant and creative young physicians.”
In the meantime, those without a family physician in Terrace are being added to a list compiled by the Pacific NW division of family practice through FETCH, or “For Everything That’s Community Health”. It’s an online resource that helps patients and health care providers find information on social and health resources in the community, allowing patients looking for a family doctor know through email when physicians in Terrace have new openings.
Currently, the only clinic with the capacity to attach patients is the Spruce Medical Centre, and then the new H.G. Health Centre when it opens in August. The Park Avenue and Lazelle Medical Clinics can provide same-day appointments, but on a first-come-first-serve basis.