By ROY WOOD
In an ongoing and so-far fruitless effort to ensure the long-term viability of the South Okanagan General Hospital’s (SOGH) emergency room, three physicians on Monday sought support from Oliver town council.
Drs. Madia Smallwood, Peter Entwistle and Jacob Bellingan painted a bleak picture of the current state of affairs where a burned-out group of doctors continually scramble to cover emergency room (ER) shifts. But their efforts often fall short, leaving the only emergency care facility south of Penticton shuttered.
One of the roots the problem is the way that ER doctors are paid, Bellingan said. Currently, they are paid on a fee-for-service basis. That is, they get paid for actually treating patients. If nobody shows up at the ER on a shift they don’t get paid.
That’s bad enough for local doctors who take time from their own practices to cover ER shifts. But for out-of-town physicians who come to work occasional shifts, it can be a deal killer, particularly when they have the option of working at Penticton General, where the pay is better and the medical environment is better resourced and less stressful.
The Penticton ER pays its doctors on an hourly basis under an Alternative Payment Program (APP), which SOGH has been trying to have implemented here but has been rejected by Interior Health.
“The biggest issue is that no one will take responsibility,” said Entwistle, expressing his frustration at Interior Health and the provincial Ministry of Health.
“We are facing closure,” he said. “And when it closes, it won’t open again.”
Entwistle, who ran in last year’s provincial election as an independent in an effort to make local health care an issue, told councillors they need to “step up and demand to know who is responsible.”
Council took no immediate action following the presentation, but indicated a concern and a willingness to get involved.
Bellingan told councillors that the group will a make a pitch to Osoyoos council in December.
Councillor Petra Veintimilla suggested Oliver and Osoyoos and the doctors should get together and form a “united front” in their efforts to retain emergency health service in the South Okanagan.