By ROY WOOD
Interior Health continued its assault Monday on any notion that the Oliver hospital is in peril or that IH has anything but the highest concern for the medical needs of the South Okanagan.
It was also made clear at Monday’s council committee meeting that the recent resignation of South Okanagan General Hospital (SOGH) chief of staff, Dr. Peter Entwistle, has led to a frenzy of institutional triage and creation of “collaborative working groups” to address community concerns about the hospital.
Following the hour-long slide show and question-and-answer period, Entwistle, who witnessed it from the gallery, asked council simply: “Do you believe everything you heard? … (which included) a lot of smoke and mirrors.”
Leading the effort for IH was health services administrator Carl Meadows, who began with a PowerPoint presentation, included these highlights:
- The IH view is that home care is best for patients and the sooner they can get out of hospital and return home with appropriate supports, the better;
- The 18 funded acute care beds at SOGH average between 90 and 94-per-cent occupancy;
- IH has invested substantially in improvements at the hospital, including security upgrades, sophisticated new equipment and new nursing positions;
- SOGH has a comparatively good record at treating patients in the ER within an appropriate time frame;
- Seven new doctors have been recruited, some part-time, for the SOGH emergency room and they will be in place by September, and
- SOGH serves a population of about 20,000 people in the Oliver and Osoyoos area.
Meadows was peppered with questions by members of council led by Councillor Petra Veitimilla, who serves as the council’s IH liaison.
Among several questions, she wanted to know:
- What is the rationale for the 20-year reduction from 40 to 18 funded beds at SOGH?
- What will happen to extra patients when the province physically removes the extra, unfunded beds that are now used occasionally?
- Whether the 18 funded beds at SOGH is based on any standardized formula?
- Why does SOGH have one of the highest absentee-due-to-sickness rates for nurses in the province?
For the most part, Meadows responded that IH has recently put together two “working groups” to look at the issues at SOGH and come up with solutions.
Dr. Brad Raison, the chief of staff at Penticton Regional Hospital who has agreed to fill that role at SOGH until Entwistle is replaced, joined Meadows at the council committee meeting. He acknowledged that the province has ignored the problem in the South Okanagan. When does government ever act? except when there is crisis – he asked rhetorically.
Central to community concerns is the ongoing difficulty finding doctors to work in the emergency room, particularly overnight. This led to some temporary closures last year and to a recent threatened closure that was averted at the last minute.
Councillor Jack Bennest suggested that Entwistle’s former willingness to step up and personally fill gaps in physician staffing in the ER may have been part of the reason nothing was done.
Raison agreed: “The government doesn’t have a comprehensive plan for rural hospitals. … Peter has forced them into action.”
Bennest asked what it is that makes it ER staffing more difficult than it used to be?
Raison suggested a combination of reasons, including a desire by doctors for work-life balance and a lack of financial incentive. Over recent decades, he said, doctors can simply make more money working in their offices than spending shifts in the ER.
Councillor Larry Schwartzenberger asked whether part of the continuing pressure on SOGH might result from increased specialization, particularly into the larger centres. The hospital formerly had a maternity ward and a surgical suite, both of which have long since been moved to Penticton.
Raison agreed that such movement has occurred. “(Patients) need to be in the appropriate place for the appropriate care,” he said.
However, he said, the South Okanagan needs to work together in a “spoke and wheel” sort of approach. “Penticton is not the enemy.”
Councillor Mo Doerr said she would like to see area doctors “step up to the plate” in the emergency department.
She also suggested that Meadows and Raison return to a council in six months to provide an update on progress on the issues at SOGH.
Mayor Ron Hovanes emphasized the fears of South Okanagan residents. “The community needs reassurance that the hospital will continue to exist and to give quality care.”
Entwistle says he is running in the current provincial election as an independent candidate in an effort to put health care concerns on the agenda.
At the end of Monday’s meeting, he said there should be more nurses on duty at night at SOGH and that there are not enough resources available for the ER.
For five years, he said, “there has been no plan.”