Partnership plan with Penticton aims to ease ER troubles at South Okanagan hospital


A potential solution to emergency room physician staffing woes at South Okanagan General Hospital in Oliver may be in the offing, but Interior Health officials are not talking about the details just yet.

During a briefing to Oliver council Monday, Lori Motluk and Dr. Curtis Bell, executive director and executive medical director of community and residential services for Interior Health, mentioned a program currently being created.

According to one of the slides in their presentation: “IH is working on a one-year partnership program between Penticton and Oliver/Osoyoos emergency room physicians to enhance community of practice, provide networking opportunities and augment manpower while SOGH continues to recruit physicians.”

Pressed for details about the partnership by Councillor Petra Veintimilla, Motluk would say only, “Stay tuned.”

She said IH continues to work on the project and “it will unfold in the fall.”

Bell referred to the partnership program as having “the most promise of anything we’ve tried in the past” to deal with the nagging issue of having enough doctors to cover the 24-hour operation of the emergency room.

Twice so far this year the ER service was reduced or shuttered because of a lack of available area doctors willing to cover all shifts.

An update on doctor recruiting for the South Okanagan and the difficulties surrounding the process were the main reason for the visit from the two IH officials.


Their presentation highlighted some of the obstacles to hiring and retaining medical doctors in rural settings:

  • 90 per cent of medical students come from wealthy urban families and are unlikely to consider working anywhere other than in a large city;
  • Medical schools are nearly all located in large cities and after eight to 10 years of medical training and city life, even formerly rural folk are likely to stay in the city;
  • Medical schools tend to move students toward specialization and research and to teach the skills required by an urban physician;
  • Potential recruits may be dissuaded from taking a rural position because of the difficulty of finding meaningful work for their spouse and appropriate education for their children; and,
  • Many doctors graduating from medical schools these days have no interest in the long hours and variety of patient needs faced by rural physicians.

Some progress is being made locally, they said, pointing to two new doctors arriving recently in the Oliver/Osoyoos area, bringing to 19 the number of active physicians in the area.

In response to a question from Councillor Mo Doerr about what local communities can do to help, Motluk suggested helping to find “matched families,” who would be similar in age and interests to the new doctor’s family and would help them integrate into the community.


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