Oliver mayor ‘disappointed’ hospital board not funding clinics
Oliver Mayor Martin Johansen is disappointed in a recent decision by the Okanagan Similkameen Regional Hospital District to not fund primary care clinics and physician recruitment with property taxes.
Johansen supported the hospital district helping fund primary care clinics, however after a discussion spanning nearly two years the district voted for their funding model to stay the same at their Jan. 7 meeting.
The current funding model does not allow the hospital district to fund non-urgent primary care clinics as they are not designated hospital facilities.
The hospital district will continue funding 40 per cent of each hospital project selected by the board from recommendations by Interior Health, but Johansen feels the need for doctors is dire in the South Okanagan and local government needs to address it.
“I’ll be honest, I’m disappointed. I do think it was an opportunity to bring some real change and make a difference to the level of health care available, especially in our rural communities. Physicians are the first touch points with our healthcare system, and yes, hospitals are critically important, but without the physicians, what do we have?” Johansen said.
Multiple board directors were opposed to using local taxpayer dollars for funding primary care clinics. Dir. Katie Robinson (Penticton) argued the funding would set a precedent for the province “downloading” healthcare costs to local governments.
“I believe that this issue a provincial responsibility. The province has the jurisdiction to fund clinics. This is not our jurisdiction or our responsibility,” Robinson said.
“We are on a very slippery slope if we allow this downloading.”
Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen CAO, Bill Newell, pointed out at the Jan. 7 meeting that the hospital district has actually set the precedent for stepping outside of the district’s funding model in the past.
“We have gone outside of the funding model previously with the Patient Care Tower for Penticton. That would have never had happened if the hospital board of directors had not completely funded a $2 million business plan,” Newell said.
The Oliver Osoyoos Primary Care Network Advisory Committee, made up of doctors, local politicians and members of the South Okanagan Similkameen Division of Family Practice, is working to bring more healthcare practitioners to the South Okanagan. If the province approves, the area is aiming to get four allied healthcare workers. However, those professionals need somewhere to work, Johansen said.
“So the challenge when you get those physicians, they need to go somewhere. And where are they going to go? They would normally go to a physician’s office or a doctor’s office, but do any of the doctors in our area have room in their offices? And then the other thing is, are they going to go to each of those offices for a few hours a day?” Johansen said.
It is much easier to recruit a physician to an area with a primary care clinic which attaches patients to a clinic and not necessarily a doctor, Johansen said, which can be an attractive prospect for a new physician.
“I always go back to the analogy for myself. You can own a plane but you’re not going to go anywhere if you don’t have a pilot. You can have the best hospital in the world, all of all the equipment, facilities, but you need a physician which is your first touch point. People need to get attached to a physician and be able to get access to health care through that physician,” Johansen said.
“And when we’re losing doctors, and our numbers of physicians are going down and people are not attached, where do they go? Especially in a rural community?”
Working with MLA for Boundary-Similkameen, Roly Russell, Johansen is hoping to get a resolution through the Union of B.C. Municipalities and bring the discussion to the Minister of Health, Adrian Dix.
Currently, non-urgent care primary care clinics are not designated as a hospital facility, but Johansen hopes to find a way to get the clinics to meet that definition to open up more funding options — including through the regional hospital district.
“We need to work with Interior Health and understand how they can support us in in getting that change made so that we can make it meet the definition, and then that opens up other funding streams for us,” Johansen said.