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Doctor shortage delaying care at Nanaimo hospital

Lack of hospital general-practice doctors has been particularly felt this month at NRGH
Nanaimo Regional General Hospital’s emergency department. A shortage of hospital general practitioners has been causing health-care delays for patients this month. (News Bulletin file photo)


Health-care delays have worsened at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital this summer, doctors have noticed, and ER patients are finding out.

Island Health confirmed that patients at NRGH over the August long weekend were being notified that although they were being admitted, there were no hospital general-practice doctors available at the time to oversee their care.

“It’s not a typical position that we want to find ourselves in,” said Marko Peljhan, Island Health’s vice-president for acute care on the central and south Island. “We have some physician shortage challenges and we’re actively working with the hospitalists to resolve that.”

Patients who come to the ER are seen by a doctor who will determine whether the person needs to be admitted. Some patients may require surgery or a medicine sub-specialty, but the majority are admitted into the care of an on-site general practitioner, or hospitalist.

“In this case, there’s a delay between the emergency physician seeing you and the hospitalist physician seeing you. Not totally across the board, but it’s happening,” Peljhan said, adding that even 24-hour waits are “unfortunately happening.”

He said NRGH has lost about 20-30 per cent of its hospitalists over the past year, and the two latest departures have led to significant challenges, particularly since Aug. 1.

“It’s not a Nanaimo problem or an Island problem, it’s a national problem. We just don’t have enough physicians, we don’t have enough health-care workers to meet our current increase in demand and that’s challenging…” Peljhan said. “You could pick any jurisdiction in the country and you’re going to find a very similar challenge and in many cases, much worse.”

Royal Jubilee Hospital and Victoria General Hospital haven’t experienced the same delays for hospitalist care, he said, but both are also experiencing shortages of hospitalists.

Peljhan said some doctors have left hospitals for opportunities in primary care, and he speculated that the province’s new payment model for family physicians could be one reason why.

He also noted that hospitalists are working without a contract, and that negotiations are happing at the provincial level.

“We hope that having a contract for our Nanaimo hospitalists that’s fair and equitable will help in retention, so we don’t lose more, and help us recruit some more physicians to prevent us being in this current situation,” he said.

Peljhan said he wished to thank NRGH staff for working “exceptionally hard to be able to provide the best care” under challenging conditions, and he urged anyone who needs hospital-level care in Nanaimo to come to NRGH.

READ ALSO: Dix plans summer tour as B.C. hospitals, health care facing ‘crises’

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said before the summer that he would be visiting hospitals around the province to talk about the crises they’re experiencing delivering health-care to growing populations amid staffing challenges.

Dix said one of the common challenges is with the increased demand, is hospitals are running over capacity. Those busy stretches used to be followed by periods of running under capacity, which “allows people to breathe a little bit,” but that’s not the case anymore.

“Every day, every single day, is intense across the system,” the minister said.

The B.C. United caucus issued a press release drawing attention to the doctor shortage in Nanaimo and criticizing the NDP government for failing to provide quality health care.

“We know that lives have already been lost as a result of B.C.’s health care crisis, and every day government fails to address it, more people are put at risk,” said Shirley Bond, B.C. United’s shadow minister for health, in a press release.

READ ALSO: Saanich Peninsula Hospital may see overnight ER waits due to staffing challenges

-files from Lauren Collins/Black Press Media

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