By Joe Fries
Doctors who work at South Okanagan General Hospital have laid bare their concerns to Interior Health in a private four-page letter obtained by The Herald.
Signed on April 20 by five members of the SOGH Medical Staff Association, the letter states its intent is to secure from IH senior executives a “commitment to a mediated, sustainable, long-term solution to the issues facing” the hospital.
It claims patient care at SOGH is being compromised in three areas: insufficient nursing and support staff; too few in-patient beds if IH follows through on a plan to physically reduce the number from 24 to 18; and difficulty finding doctors to work in the ER.
The letter suggests “IH’s lack of action in response to our concerns has resulted in adverse mental and physical working conditions that have led to a strained relationship between SOGH physicians and IH,” and “called into question the trust that the communities of Oliver, Osoyoos and the surrounding areas have in IH’s commitment to providing high-quality medical care and services to the people of the South Okanagan.”
The doctors conclude with five specific commitments they want from IH by May 3, including changing pay scales and staff workloads to match what’s in place at Penticton Regional Hospital, giving doctors a say on any plans to remove in-patient beds, hiring more support staff, and making physical changes to the ER to improve safety, confidentiality and workflow.
Former chief of staff Dr. Peter Entwistle, who resigned in March to protest working conditions at SOGH and is now running as an independent in the provincial election, said IH has agreed to meet with doctors May 10 – the day after voters go to the polls.
IH spokeswoman Tara Gostelow said she was not aware of a date having been set, but said addressing doctors’ concerns is a priority for the organization.
Meanwhile, town councils in Oliver and Osoyoos have also thrown their support behind the doctors.
“While the reduction of funded beds from 24 to 18 occurred almost five years ago, that 25 per cent cut is currently affecting hospital users in the south Okanagan with access to acute care,” states an April 22 letter from political leaders in both communities addressed to IH CEO Chris Mazurkewich.
“Mayor and council expects answers to these concerns and assurances that SOGH will not see the removal of beds, that staffing will be immediately reviewed and that the emergency department remains open,” the letter concludes.