One of the people who will lose their doctor this summer says the health authority is to blame for the departure of the Oceanside Health Centre's only family physician.
Island Health (formerly the Vancouver Island Health Authority, or VIHA) confirmed last week that Dr. Marlene van der Weyde has decided to retire from general practice. Her last day will be July 31.
"The fault lies with VIHA," said the patient, who asked not to be named. "Dr. van der Weyde made a valiant attempt to make the position work but VIHA red tape, technical issues, work overload, etc. made it impossible. The fact that she has chosen to leave raises serious questions about the program being run at Oceanside."
Island Health said it would not respond to the comments of this unnamed source.
Many of the 1,700 people who are clients at the Oceanside Health Centre (OHC) primary care department may have never seen Van der Weyde, instead having their needs attended to by a nurse practitioner or other people who are part of the primary care team. It's unclear how many of the 1,700 clients claim Van der Weyde as their doctor.
Island Health also said there will be a physician available at the OHC if required.
"Until a new physician is in place, patient care for Dr. van der Weyde's patients will be transferred to a nurse practitioner," Island Health's Valerie Wilson explained. "There are three nurse practitioners at the Oceanside Health Centre. Nurse practitioners are advanced-practice nurses with masters degrees and can diagnose and treat illnesses, prescribe medications and order most diagnostic tests."
Should a patient need to be seen by a physician, "the Nurse Practitioner will consult with the doctor working in Urgent Care at the Oceanside Health Centre," said Wilson. That set-up might not sit well with some patients.
"Very distressed to hear of Dr. van der Weyde's decision to leave the Oceanside team," said one of the doctor's patients. "She has truly been a Godsend for our care for a number of years and has helped us through some grave medical issues. I understand that a nurse practitioner can assume some of the responsibilities of a doctor, but what they cannot do leaves a gaping hole. People's lives are at stake. This situation must raise serious alarms at VIHA."
Van der Weyede won't be disappearing from the local health scene.
"We are of course very happy that she will be remaining in the Oceanside community where she will be providing physician care to home-bound frail and elderly people and as well as end-of-life physician services to individuals in the Oceanside area," said Island Health's Wilson. "We would like to thank Dr. van der Weyde for the tremendous contribution she has made to the OHC and to the Oceanside community and we wish her the very best in the future. She will . . . continue to provide consultation services to the OHC on a regular basis until a new primary care physician is in place. We also look forward to continuing our collaboration with Dr. van der Weyde in her work as an Oceanside-based end-of-life physician."
Island Health says it is working to fill this vacancy as soon as possible.
"We know that recruiting physicians can be challenging, given the current national physician shortage," said Wilson.
Premier Christy Clark, in Parksville last week for caucus meetings, said finding physicians "is a problem all over the world." She also said "I think we will be successful in finding a replacement. Island Health is going to work hard to find a replacement. Frankly, I don't think it's going to be as hard here as in other communities to find a replacement. It's not like living in Parksville is like hardship pay, right? I mean people really love to be here and it's a rewarding practice to have, so I'm hopeful Island Health will be able to find a replacement."
Island Health provided The NEWS with a copy of the letter it says van der Weyde has been sending to her patients. It reads, in part:
"At this juncture in my career, I have decided to focus on providing care to home-bound frail elderly patients as well as to palliative patients. As you may know, there is a great need for this type of care here in our community . . . Our Oceanside Primary Care patients will continue to be cared for by our extremely competent and dedicated nurse practitioners all of whom have diagnostic and treatment skills. They are able to write prescriptions, make referrals and order most diagnostic tests. Island Health is actively recruiting for family physicians for the Oceanside Health Centre. I will continue to provide support to our nurse practitioners in a consultative manner until a physician is in place."
Island Health also said since the opening of the OHC in 2013, there has been a decrease in average monthly client volumes at hospitals in Nanaimo (23 per cent), Port Alberni (49 per cent) and Comox (17 per cent average monthly decrease in Oceanside client volume in the emergency department).