It was starting to look really bad for health care in Clearwater.
The town of 5,000 is down to two physicians, and one of those is about to move away. That will leave one physician to handle a clinic and hospital.
But on Wednesday, a provincial announcement breathed new hope into the town and 16 other rural communities struggling to fill serious gaps in medical care.
B.C. is now offering a cash incentive of $100,000 to doctors willing to commit to working in one of 17 different rural areas for three years — among them Clearwater. And the hope is that doctors who sign up will set down roots and remain.
“We’re optimistic now we can start recruiting a couple more doctors for Clearwater,” said Mayor John Harwood. “With this announcement I think it will be great.”
Rural Physicians for British Columbia aims to fill 20 pre-designated family physician and specialist positions — two of them general practitioners in Clearwater.
Participating physicians will receive $50,000 when they begin working in the community and the remaining $50,000 will be paid once they have completed one year of service.
The other communities are Bella Coola, Burns Lake, Chetwynd, Cranbrook, Galiano Island, Hazelton, Kitimat, Nakusp, Pemberton, Port Alberni, Port Hardy, Princeton, Quesnel, Terrace, Tofino and Tumbler Ridge.
A joint committee of the government and medical association will work with health authorities to determine which communities get the doctors based on those in most urgent need.
Longtime Clearwater doctor John Soles said the unanswered question is, will it work?
“The questions that this program is going to answer hopefully is that if we provide significant incentives for people to come into these communities that are most in need, will they be likely to stay?”
If so, the program will not only fill a desperate need, it could save taxpayer money since fill-in doctors, known as locums, hired to cover health-care gaps cost $950 a day.
The program doesn’t please everyone, however.
“It raises a lot of questions,” said Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation.
Before “shovelling money out of the back of a truck,” he said the province should wait and see if a federal student loan forgiveness program started in August for doctors and nurses practicing in rural areas achieves its goals.
“One wonders why the rush for the B.C. government to jump in with their own program when we haven’t even seen the results of this one,” he said. “If it is working, it solves the problem for the B.C. government. If it isn’t working ,what makes us think that another $100,000 would bring more doctors to rural areas?”