UBCM/Scott McAlpine photo

Local officals working with govt on doctor shortage in Parksville Qualicum Beach

Qualicum Beach mayor says lack of physicians “more profound” in region

A “profound” lack of family physicians in the area has prompted local officials to take action with the provincial government.

Regional District of Nanaimo Chair Bill Veenhof, Parksville Mayor Marc Lefebvre and Qualicum Beach Mayor Teunis Westbroek and members of the councils of Parksville and Qualicum Beach met with Parksville-Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell and Minister of Health Adrian Dix on Sept. 27, during the annual Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) Convention.

The minister and his staff were briefed by the elected local representatives on the challenges that exist in the Parksville-Qualicum Beach area for recruiting and retaining physicians.

Westbroek said while there is a problem of attracting and retaining family physicians in other areas, he said, “in this area it’s even more profound.”

“There is a severe shortage of family physicians generally all over Canada, but I believe in this area it’s even more profound because of the aging population,” said Westbroek, adding doctors in the area are aging and retiring and seniors, generally, take people care than younger people.

Westbroek told The NEWS that before UBCM it was decided between the municipalities and the RDN that, whichever group got a meeting with Dix, it would invite the others to participate. Westbroek said it was Parksville that received the meeting.

“It shows that we’re not just talking about one small community, we’re talking about the whole Oceanside area of about 50,000 people and there are a lot of people without family physicians and there’s going to be a lot more,” Westbroek said.

One of the resources the municipalities and the RDN are looking into, Westbroek said, is for nurse practitioners to have billing numbers so they can work in doctors’ offices to provide services. Westbroek also said 78 per cent of the work doctors do can be done by nurse practitioners.

The area, according to a news release from the RDN, presently has about 50,000 residents with considerable growth projected for at least 15 years due to “baby boomer” retirements and economic development. Nearly one-in-four residents are unable to find a family physician in the region.

“We need provincial policy and regulatory support via changes to remove current obstacles to help our residents find a family physician in Oceanside,” Lefebvre said.

Locally a group of community leaders and concerned physicians have been brought together to work on this broad-based community initiative.

“Many want to look at effective ways to utilize and integrate existing health-care resources to find a solution now,” Westbroek said.

The Qualicum Beach – Parksville Healthcare Foundation was created to develop and operate a non-profit, team-based multi-disciplinary facility that will provide an attractive environment for younger practitioners. The objective is to more effectively utilize and integrate existing community health care resources, and absorb the thousands of unattached patients of the Parksville-Qualicum Beach region.

Westbroek said it’s the town’s responsibility to advocate for more doctors in the region, adding that during the meeting Dix seemed open to suggestions.

Opportunities for future innovative partnerships were explored to provide comprehensive healthcare in the area. Dix said he was aware of the current challenges and indicated that future discussions will take place to work towards solutions.

— with files from the RDN