Health authority has handle on issues, exec tells board

'Kamloops, in my view, is still a desirable place to practise medicine'

Mike Youds / Kamloops Daily News
November 22, 2012 01:00 AM

Thompson Regional Health Board took advantage of presentations on Thursday by Interior Health administrators to raise a barrage of questions on health care.

Priority one was an update on the RIH master plan, but directors also pressed home concerns raised in communities across the region about critical health-care services.

Tina Lange, a City councillor on the board, welcomed Andrew Neuner, IHA vice-president of community integration, back to the hot seat.

"It's not as hot as it used to be," Neuner replied. "I'm not here to rant to you like I did last year in terms of things all communities could do."

Director John Sternig wondered whether the newly published survey of doctors on the proposed Ajax mine project - indicating a high percentage would consider relocating if the mine proceeds - is symptomatic of a trend.

The Ajax proposal hasn't even finished its environmental assessment, Sternig noted, suggesting the opinions are premature.

"If something happens, we're outta here," Sternig said, characterizing the survey findings. "It gives me a feeling of instability."

Neuner didn't directly address the survey, published Tuesday in The Daily News.

"Kamloops, in my view, is still a desirable place to practise medicine," he said. The determining factor is not the income they earn, but "good, collegial relationships" in health-care practice, he added. The health authority is working on attracting new physicians to the area, he said.

"And they are coming."

Parking at RIH, a continuing problem from a public perspective, also came up. The future clinical services building will house 350 stalls.

RIH administrator Marg Brown said the additional parking should help as long as the IHA continues to lease off-site parking for staff. As it is, staff compete with visitors for the same spaces.

The payment system, requiring visitors to run back and forth to the parkade to pay for extra time, remains an issue.

"The public is not happy with the current system, so we'll have to look at the system of payment," Brown said.

Neuner focused on two areas: physician recruitment and primary care initiatives involving three strategic areas - chronic diseases, mental health and seniors. With the aging demographic, the IHA expects to see 3,000 new cases each year, a trend forecast to level out in the next five to 10 years.

Through the King Street Mental Health Initiative, 900 high-needs patients who didn't have a physician before are now attached to care plans, he said.

"It's the right approach in terms of getting to these folks much earlier with community care services."

For diabetes alone, IHA is spending $135 million annually, he noted.

"In five years, one in 10 people will have it," making it the largest epidemic in Canada, one that doesn't get the attention of other diseases.

IHA has embarked on a new strategy with Physicians for Family Practice, he said. About 700 doctors in the region are grouped into seven distinct community-based divisions, nonprofit societies that partner with the health authority, bringing greater focus and advocacy with seven representatives at the table.

"It is a lot easier than dealing with 700."

Director Larry Morgan from North Shuswap-Seymour Arm wondered about the possibility of IHA funding equipment for a new private clinic in Scotch Creek.

"I do not support private practices by providing equipment," Neuner said, adding that he'd prefer to keep the nearby Chase clinic in a strong operation capacity. "My preference is not to support private practice."

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