An emergency room program change that took effect April 1 at South Okanagan General Hospital (SOGH) in Oliver is still within the provincial norm for providing acute care, suggests an Oliver-based doctor.
Dr. Alan Ruddiman, co-chair of the BC Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues and a past president of Doctors of BC, said it’s not unusual in BC for “high-volume and high-intensity emergency rooms” to have physicians on-call — although usually those doctors are on-site.
“In the majority of BC’s rural communities where the emergency room (ER) volumes are often lower than in larger towns and cities, physicians are available on a call-back basis to the ER,” he writes in a reply to an article published on OsoyoosToday April 1. “Either way, the emergency room is covered 24/7 by skilled and well-trained medical and nursing professionals.”
The Interior Health Region on March 29 reported physicians would be “called into the emergency department during the night (10 p.m. to 6 a.m.) to respond to emergencies, rather than remaining on location for an entire shift.”
On-call doctors would be summoned to the hospital by nursing staff only for patients requiring true emergency care or for patients aged 16 and under.
All others would be directed to Penticton Regional Hospital — either by transport by ambulance or private vehicle — or given the option of remaining in the waiting room, returning in the morning, or scheduling an appointment with their family physician.
“The perception that a physician is up at all hours of the night waiting for patients to present at our rural ER is not the reality,” Dr. Ruddiman writes. “Even the on-call-on-site arrangement does not require a physician to be immediately available in the ER, but rather on site within the facility.
“Like most of us, when the ER quietens down, they could and should be catching up on some useful and necessary rest.”
Across BC, physician coverage is usually provided by local generalist physicians — the very same generalist physicians who during weekdays and business hours run their clinics and offices as general practitioners and family physicians, Dr. Ruddiman writes.
“There are a number of (General Practitioners and Family Practitioners) in Oliver and Osoyoos who still provide valuable and much-needed ER department coverage at SOGH, and take on call ER shifts in addition to their family practice commitments.”
He adds that responsible use is one way the community can make the best use of the SOGH emergency room as a “valuable and much-needed resource for our rural communities.”
“We the public all have a responsibility to ensure that we use it wisely and for its intended purpose — primarily for the provision of urgent and emergency care when necessary.
“Using our ER perhaps inappropriately at times puts increased pressure on our doctors and nurses and contributes to burn-out within these professions.”
He adds, however, that “all residents in the South Okanagan deserve to have their own family physician or nurse practitioner to participate in and support them in their primary care needs, and management of both acute and long term health care needs.”
“It’s not enough for us to be concerned about our hospital and ER alone; we also need to give urgent attention to promoting and supporting efforts to recruit more family doctors and primary care providers to Oliver and Osoyoos where there is a pressing need for for primary care services in our communities . . .”