The cameras Friday followed Adrian Dix as he toured the Penticton Regional Hospital.

But the provincial Health Minister also made a stop in Oliver to talk with local politicians, doctors and others about the South Okanagan General Hospital.

Mr. Dix was in Penticton as the regional hospital celebrates a construction milestone — the completion of the concrete phase of its state-of-the-art tower facility. The talk now is of the $312.5-million tower opening its doors in spring 2019.

While that’s exciting news for Penticton and area residents, it does bring some concerns in the South Okanagan, chief among them a sense the South Okanagan General Hospital may be considered redundant.

Phase 2 of the Penticton project, for example, includes renovations to vacated areas in the existing hospital to allow for an expanded emergency department in a space almost four times the size of the current department.

Please excuse people in the South Okanagan if they might be wondering how the Interior Health Authority plans to not only fill up that ER space but also fund it while keeping an ER facility in Oliver.

Hence the Oliver meeting, which was reported to be informal and a well-rounded discussion. Those attending included local doctors, IHA representatives and the mayors of Oliver and Osoyoos, and Boundary-Similkameen MLA Linda Larson.

It was brought about in some part by questions she raised in the provincial legislature a week previous. Ms. Larson indicated the South Okanagan community is looking for permanent full-time emergency doctors to remove the ER burden from local physicians.

“Normally, it serves about 10,000 people, regular residents, but in the summer and tourist season, up to 30,000,” said Ms. Larson of the hospital. “It’s a 24-hour emergency, but the doctors who work it are just the local GPs who also run their own practices.”

Both the Towns of Osoyoos and Oliver have also engaged substantially in demonstrating the local health care problem to the province and the minister likely heard their collective voice as well.

The Oliver meeting included discussion on one potential answer — the use of Alternative Payment Plan (APP) funding to complement the current fee-for-service pay system.

APP funding is provided by the province and administered by the health authority to “secure sufficient access to care in situations where fee-for-service arrangements may not guarantee physicians the financial support or stability to be able to provide needed care.”

The provincial Ministry of Health provides funding through two APP methods: service agreements and sessional arrangements.

According to the province, a service agreement is a contract between the Ministry of Health and a health authority or similar agency, which in turn retains the required physicians through contract, direct employment or some other negotiated arrangement.

In Oliver, the service agreement would provide funding for dedicated ER physicians and allow local physicians to focus on patient care in their home communities.

The minister is reportedly considering applications for APP funding in the region.

“They’re developing some proposals, and I think they’re supposed to be ready to forward, so we’re going to take a look as well,” the Summerland Review reported Mr. Dix as saying. “I’ve heard them on all those issues as well.”

Whether that funding will materialize and what it will look like remains to be seen. But should it be approved, it will be interesting to see how a revitalized state-of-the-art emergency department in Penticton will affect staffing.

To coin the horse and water analogy — you can offer an intriguing rural opportunity, but you can’t make a doctor come.

Or stay.

In the past, physicians courted to SOGH have jumped ship when an opportunity to practice in Penticton was made available. With new shiny tools with which to play, that Penticton opportunity will likely prove even more enticing.

An APP is definitely a good solution for SOGH’s current woes. It would be enhanced, however, if an implementation strategy accompanied it.

That strategy should determine solutions to both recruit and keep dedicated ER physicians in the community. And it should propose incentives to encourage general practitioners to make the best use of the additional time made available with a curtailing of ER responsibilities.

It’s a strategy that should be designed by local government to benefit local communities.

Now, didn’t somebody just get $100,000 to sort of do just that?

 

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