Health care in Maple Ridge is suffering from a crippling shortage of family doctors, and Maple Ridge council has been asked to assist by providing $150,000 to recruit more.
Council will make a decision later this month.
Treena Innes, executive director of the Ridge Meadows Division of Family Practice, appeared before council on Tuesday to outline the problem – there is already a shortage of 19 doctors, and an estimated 20 per cent of the city’s doctors will be retiring in the next five years.
The province funded the program A GP For Me for three years as a physician recruitment initiative. That program was successful in attracting 17 family physicians to Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, but funding ended two years ago.
The division is asking for $75,000 to cover that group’s recruitment and retention costs, and another $75,000 to hire a professional recruiter for 12 months, with a budget of recruiting five family doctors at a cost of $15,000 each.
Innes said there is no government body responsible for family physician recruitment and supply in B.C..
The shortage is happening because the area’s population is growing. The last generation of doctors have “huge patient panels,” she explained, while new ones coming in want work-life balance. So it takes two or three to replace a single doctor, she added.
“Bottom line, we just can’t keep up with the demand.
Innes attended the meeting with two local physicians.
“There are a third or more of the people in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows who do not have a family doctor, and it is well documented that patient health outcomes are better when they have a family doctor,” said Dr. Bob Harrison.
He added that some patients are not able to get an appointment with their doctor for two weeks or more. They will turn to walk-in clinics, which brings more frustration.
“We have up to six hour waits on most days in the clinic, and due to a shortage of doctors in clinics, we often have to close the clinic for a shift or so when there is no doctor to do that shift,” said Harrison.
Their report to council said the number of doctors working at local walk-in clinics should be doubled from 12 to 24.
Harrison said doctors are being burned out by the demands of their job.
“My feeling is that we need more doctors. The provincial government is trying to squeeze more capacity out of the existing doctors by reorganizing delivery of care into primary care networks,” he said, adding it is like “giving another twist on the sponge to squeeze more capacity out of us. We are already squeezed dry. We need more doctors in the system.”
Dr. Kandas Gounden said the problem is only going to get worse, and the public needs to pressure government.
“We are going to have a tsunami in medical terms, because we have an imbalance in supply and demand. The demand is increasing on a daily basis. The supply is limited or ever regressing,” added Gounden.
“We are going to have patients waiting longer for conditions that could have been treated earlier, with the resultant increased morbidity, mortality, and, more so, the cost to the system.”
Mayor Nicole Read asked what conversations the group is having with senior government.
Innes said the health ministry wants to redesign health care, but those changes are still many years away.
“The system is really significantly structurally and systemically flawed, and I would say broken,” said Coun. Bob Masse, adding the Canada Health Act guarantees accessibility, but people are waiting weeks to see physicians.
He noted there are international medical graduates waiting to practice, but they are not brought into the system due to constrictions around residency programs and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia.
“In the past year, we have allocated only 52 residency spots for international medical graduates and there were 1,250 applicants. So there is an abundance of duly qualified doctors,” Gounden said. ” … they can’t get into the system.”
Masse said there needs to be more doctors in the province, not just the city.
“A lot of the actions being taken are to get our community a little bigger slice of a way-too-small pie. We’ve got to get a way bigger pie.”
Coun. Kiersten Duncan said she has been frustrated in getting treatment for her own chronic pain condition at walk-in clinics.
“I’ve had to camp out an hour and a half before a clinic opens, with the hope that I will get in there,” she said. “And it’s bad enough if I have to do that, but for people with disabilities, people with young children, infants who can’t get the help that they need, it’s horrible, it’s dismal and it’s appalling that this is happening in Canada.”
Duncan asked for a discussion about funding on a one-time basis.
Read responded she does not see support for that on council.
Read said council does have an advocacy role to play, but wants to speak with local MLAs and MP Dan Ruimy. She did not want to commit the city’s funds.
“I feel like this is a Fraser Health responsibility …”
There will be a staff report back to council at the end of May, about how the city can advocate for physician recruitment and retention issues.