An in-house survey of Kamloops doctors shows 70 per cent of respondents would definitely or probably not come here if the Ajax mine were in place.
Three Kamloops doctors - two orthopedic surgeons and an emergency physician - polled 207 of their colleagues this month with three questions about the mine. They got 152 responses back - a 73 per cent return.
Of those 152 respondents, 105 said they would definitely or probably not consider Kamloops if they were looking for a place to practice. That's 70 per cent who would have considered the mine as a negative in whether to move here.
The remaining 47 doctors said Ajax would definitely not or likely not be a factor in whether they looked at practicing in Kamloops.
The second question was whether the doctors would move if Ajax is approved and built. Again, of the 152 who filled out the surveys, 54 said definitely or probably, while 98 said not likely or no.
The final question asked if the physicians were concerned about potential health impacts of the Ajax mine on Kamloops residents. The total for yes was 128, or 84 per cent, compared with 24 who said no, or 16 per cent.
Dr. Derek Plausinis, one of the trio involved with the survey, said Monday the survey results were sent to MLAs, the MP, City council and the Environmental Assessment Office.
"We heard a number of comments from colleagues they were concerned about the project and would consider leaving Kamloops if the project went forward. This could have a tremendous impact on health care and access to care in our community," he said.
The results point to a potentially significant issue in recruiting and retaining doctors in a city that already has an estimated 15,000 people without a family doctor, he said.
"Wait lists are going to grow. It is a significant access to care issue at the family medicine and specialist services level."
Physicians want to make sure their concerns are heard, Plausinis said.
"We've heard the Environmental Assessment Office has contracted an agency to study social impacts. But no one has contacted physicians in that regard and we're not aware of any details. We're quite concerned about access to health care in the community."
KGHM spokesman Norm Thompson said the doctors need to heed their own procedures and reserve judgment until all the test results are in before making a diagnosis.
"I suggest the doctors wait until we finish our studies and we give them the answers," he said.
The EAO is still reviewing 1,300 comments from the community to give KGHM the final version of questions to be answered by the company, he said.
"We get to study the questions and come up with proposals and alternatives that get discussed in the greater public forum."
There's no time limit and no deadline, with studies still to be done and information to be gathered, Thompson said.
"They need to wait and give us an opportunity to do the studies."
Plausinis acknowledged there is a lack of scientific-based information for doctors. They're hoping their survey will be helpful for the area's politicians.
"Hopefully this will be valuable information they can add to the collection of considerations they undertake when moving forward with their assessment decisions."
Emergency physician Dr. Alan Vukusic said the survey was done because some had said they would consider leaving if Ajax is approved.
"The results are quite strong and it's upsetting to see how many people would avoid Kamloops or not come if Ajax were in place," said Vukusic, who moved here in 2003 after being here as a resident physician.
"I feel so fortunate I've had the chance to work with such a dedicated group of colleagues. I don't want to see that disrupted. That's what brought me here. I had a great experience as a medical student."
He wants the calibre of medical staff to be maintained and fears Ajax would change that.
"The community leaders do need to know this issue does exist and the social impact is not one to be underestimated," he said. "The reality is, Kamloops has to compete with other communities to recruit docs. Unfortunately, this is going to be another hurdle."
Mayor Peter Milobar noted the City has little say and most of council is waiting for information before taking a stand.
"We will absolutely be taking information like the doctors' survey into those discussions. That will help frame it up just like every other public concern has."
He noted there was a big discrepancy between the number of survey respondents who said they would consider moving if the mine proceeded (36 per cent), and those who said they had concerns about health impacts (84 per cent).
But the fact that many answered "probably" means there are doctors who are waiting for more information, Milobar said.
"We're stuck in a holding pattern and it's been this non-stop conversation around what-ifs. We need actual answers. I'm as frustrated as anyone else that we don't have the answers yet," he said.
Ultimately, the decision-making lies in the hands of the federal and provincial governments, he said.
"We do not have the decision-making capability. All of the public angst appears to be directed at council, as if we are decision makers," said the mayor.
"We are nothing more than providing comment and opinion to the province. The more in-depth and informed that opinion can be, based on information from the mine, the more likely the province will give it the weighting it should."
Coun. Tina Lange said the City's recent citizen satisfaction survey showed Ajax was the top issue on residents' minds and that they wanted council to take a leadership role on the mine.
If 50 doctors, or fewer, left the community, it would have a huge impact, she said.
"Even if we lost 10 doctors, that's critical to this city. We lose support staff, we lose people, we lose businesses moving here. To me, that's a far greater impact than the jobs the mine would produce," she said.
"People move here for livability. But what if we can't offer services? And let's face it, having a doctor is the number one service people want."
While council can't say yes or no to the mine itself, it has a voice, she said.
"I would like to see council follow up with this group of doctors and send some kind of a letter to the Environmental Assessment Office saying, please give this some weight because it certainly indicates having an open pit mine in our city is going to affect lifestyle for a lot of people, Lange said.
"I've always just said the perception will hurt us. But to think of that many doctors even considering leaving, that's a huge concern to me. We're a trauma centre. That wouldn't just affect Kamloops, it would affect all the way to Merritt, and up the valley."
WORD ON THE STREET
Almost 70 per cent of the doctors surveyed said the Alax mine would deter them from moving to Kamloops. We asked Kamloops residents what they thought of that.
"What is their reasoning? Do they think it's a health risk? That would concern me if doctors think it's unhealthy. It would definitely influence me."
- Diane Shalanski
"I could see that they wouldn't want to be here with this big mine right next door. They want to have a healthy environment and they're not sure it's going to be maintained if the mine goes in. Politicians can promise all they want, but . . ."
- Aannie Cloosterman
"The mine shouldn't be a deterrent. It should bring doctors to town. If we had more people working here (through the mine), we would need more doctors."
- Mike Dyck
© Kamloops Daily News