There are more than 3,700 people waiting for a doctor on the Patient Attachment Mechanism (PAM) list in Chilliwack and area. (Black Press files)

Recruiting physicians to practice in Chilliwack is an uphill battle

Shortage of doctors is critical right across Canada, and not just Chilliwack

Chilliwack Division of Family Practice is keenly focused on increasing the number of physicians coming to Chilliwack.

But it’s an uphill battle since the exact number of doctors the Division recruited in the past two years have since left Chilliwack, or retired.

Right now there are more than 3,700 people waiting for a doctor on the Patient Attachment Mechanism (PAM) list, said Katrina Bepple, executive director of the Chilliwack Division of Family Practice.

That means thousands of people in need of a regular family physician are on a waitlist, and unfortunately the PAM list is not designed to be a permanent fix for the terribly vexing situation.

The dearth of doctors is a critical challenge right across Canada, and not in any way particular to Chilliwack.

“We currently have a few physicians we are speaking with, and are hopeful we should have a few more come to Chilliwack by year end,” Bepple said.

While the Division managed to successfully recruit 13 physicians since January 2016, the same number, 13 doctors, have left the community either to retire or relocate.

Fraser Health has added two new nurse practitioners in that timeframe.

According to the latest available data from the B.C. Ministry of Health from 2014, between 20 per cent and 24 per cent of Chilliwack residents are “unattached,” meaning no family doctor.

The provincial average is around 17 per cent.

“We also know that we currently have 3,700-plus people on the PAM waitlist, and that number is growing daily, with extremely limited capacity to attach people in community,” Bepple added.

“It is important to note that the PAM waitlist is a tool in order for us to assess need and advocate for additional resources,” she said. “It is not a solution to attachment.”

The Division actively works with community partners to recruit physicians to Chilliwack, Agassiz, and Hope through its Recruitment, Retention and Retirement committee. While the committee no longer gets provincial funding since the “A GP for Me” program was dissolved, it leverages what resources it can find to attract any physician who expresses an interest in Chilliwack.

CEPCO is “a great partner that does an amazing job” on the recruitment front, showcasing what Chilliwack has to offer.

CEPCO takes a broad, community approach when it comes to physician recruitment, and supporting those who are considering a move to Chilliwack.

“This challenge of not having enough physicians has been around a long time,” said Brian Coombes, executive director of Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation (CEPCO).

But what CEPCO reps can do when a prospective doctor is interested, is “roll out the red carpet,” with a hearty welcome and community support.

“It could be those physicians who are looking to relocate their practice, or those who are searching the entire province for the right community,” Coombes said.

They tour the hospital and medical offices as well as the community landmarks and services. They may be in town for a few hours, or a few days but they get the picture.

“It’s the personal touch that we offer, and based on their specific needs we develop a tour to showcase what Chilliwack has to offer.”

It’s been successful, and they’ve recruited physicians to Chilliwack by highlighting the incredible quality of life and affordability offered.

“It comes in waves, but most often it is well-received because they feel like it’s a community effort.”

Some communities have amassed capital in reserve for recruitment. Maple Ridge, for example, set a figure of $15,000 to spend per physician they seek to recruit.

“It’s easy to say we need thousands to allocate to recruitment, but in reality in some cases it is more a matter of less, in terms of hundreds rather than thousands,” said Coombes. “It’s the Chilliwack way, finding a way to leverage the collective knowledge and experience. It’s more about the time spent.”

For Bepple, it comes down to attracting “the human-power required to meet the need of our growing population,” and the growing complexity of that population.

“There simply are not enough family physicians to meet the demand in Chilliwack, let alone B.C. or Canada, so how can we provide the right care, by the right person, in the right place, at the right time? That’s where team-based care can come in.”

Maybe the most appropriate provider to see that patient isn’t the family doctor after all, maybe it’s a mental health clinician, a physiotherapist, or a dentist. The key question, she said, becomes how to restructure the system so that the family physician or nurse practitioner can easily pull in the services their patients need.

“Our family physicians, and family physicians across the province, are invested in B.C. Through the Divisions, in partnership with our local health authorities and community organizations, we are looking at how we can redesign the system to provide the right care, in the right place, by the right person, at the right time. A great local example of this is our Chilliwack Youth Health Centre.”

A network of 10 groups made it happen.

“We identified that youth and young adults did not have timely access to primary care and mental health services. So we got together, and with extremely limited new resources, launched two sites, two afternoons a week, where 12-year-olds to 26-year-olds now have drop-in, free, confidential access to mental health and primary care services.”

They are on track for 2,400 appointments.

“The biggest challenge now is the infrastructure and ongoing operating costs that are needed to meet the increasing need.

“It’s not the lack of providers,” Bepple added.

READ MORE: PAM goes online


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