West Shore health care: direct action is needed

Julie Lawlor, West Shore Chamber of Commerce executive director weighs in

On Feb. 28 I attended the third of a series of meetings organized by the South Island Division of Family Practice. Entitled “Primary Health Care in the Western Communities,” this event focused on the lack of doctors in the West Shore and Sooke and was attended by municipal representatives, community partners, doctors and other health-care providers.

You may be wondering why the WestShore Chamber of Commerce would be interested in such an initiative, but the answer is actually pretty straightforward. If business is going to thrive in or move into our region, there are three quality of life components that have to be in place: education, leisure amenities and health care. In the West Shore we’ve had some great improvements of late in educational facilities, and both private non-profit schools and School District 62 are hard at work on plans to accommodate our projected population growth.

In addition to our parks, lakes and waterfront, we have a growing variety of leisure options available in the West Shore. However, when it comes to health care, many people cannot get a family doctor or even access a walk-in clinic because there are more patients requiring treatment than doctors to see them. When you combine a diminishing number of doctors with a population that continues to increase, what was once an inconvenience becomes a crisis. Without wishing to appear overly dramatic, the feedback from practitioners is that the South Island has reached a crisis point and tangible actions need to be taken now.

In spite of this strong message, the conversation at Belmont secondary on the 28th was positive and collaborative. A question we kept coming back to is, “How can we recruit more family doctors to the South Island?” One of the responses was “advertise!” A newly arrived doctor said that in two years he has seen an abundance of advertisements in the family practice journal he receives, but none for southern Vancouver Island. We have a great climate and quality of life and this can differentiate us from other regions.

This suggestion is, of course, only the tip of the iceberg. The cost to practice in this region is high. Doctors typically start their working life with a significant student debt and setting up a practice and office is a further expense that some cannot afford. We heard examples of alternative health care delivery models taking place in the region which could help address these costs.

We also learned that in some areas of the province, doctors are given a financial incentive to settle in remote or rural communities that may otherwise not be attractive to physicians. While much of the South Island can no longer be described as rural or remote, our high cost of living means an incentive to doctors could make as much of a difference in recruiting doctors to our region as it does to other underserviced communities.

And what can you do? If you are concerned about a lack of doctors or other health care professionals in our region, let your municipal officials know. At the meeting, they were very clear that this gives municipalities the evidence they need to lobby the provincial government. And if you can contribute to the solution, please contact Dr. Robin Saunders, board chair of the South Island Division of Family Practice, who can be reached at robinsaunders@sookefamilydocs.com.

Julie Lawlor is executive director of the WestShore Chamber of Commerce. Reach her at jlawlor@westshore.bc.ca or by calling 250-478-1130. For more information on the WestShore Chamber of Commerce, please go to westshore.bc.ca.

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