A community-led healthcare coalition is what finally got Princeton more doctors and a return to a 24/7 Emergency Room again, but it took more than the town expected.
First it took a lot of community discussion and soul searching, as well as a new way of thinking about healthcare.
Ed Staples and Nienke Klaver from Save Our Health Care and Okanagan-Similkameen Regional District director Brad Hope were in Ashcroft last Friday at the invitation of MLA Jackie Tegart to talk about how they got their health care moving on the right track again.
About 30 members of the public attended their presentation, including a delegation from Logan Lake who are presently without any doctors.
Hope said that two years ago Princeton went from seven family doctors and a fully functioning ER to three doctors – two of them over 70 years old – and an ER with irregular hours.
Residents were irate. They wrote letters, signed petitions, held rallies, and formed a coalition called Save Our Hospital.
Hope said the results of these actions were not good. Nothing seemed to happen, he said. “We were in limbo.”
They were spending $2,000 per month to bring in locums and wondering what else they could do to encourage doctors to come.
They developed a doctor recruitment plan with incentives, said Staples, but they found that other communities were doing the same thing. All of a sudden, they were in competition with other communities to provide more and more incentives, and it just wasn’t working.
“We said, ‘Look, we share the same problems. Let’s not fight against each other’.”
Staples said they had to change their attitude from one of confrontation and suspicion to mutual respect. They changed the name of their coalition from Save Our Hospital to something that didn’t have the same ring of desperation and negativity – Save Our Health Care, and together with Interior Health they began a research project with UBC-Oianagan.
A research facilitator brought together the community and asked questions like what’s working in local healthcare, what’s not working, and what needs to be improved?
Before the research began, said Hope, they knew everything. They knew what everyone wanted from their healthcare and from their hospital and from their doctors. And then they found out through the research that they didn’t know anything. “Things that we thought we agreed on, we didn’t agree on.”
They are still working on improvements to their healthcare, but the ER is open 24/7 again, they have four new physicians, three new RNs, a nurse practitioner and many other services.
Most communities go for the Red Carpet treatment in doctor recruitment, said Hope. But what he found when talking with doctors is that they’re not attracted by perks and incentives. They’re more interested in communities that are interested in healthy living. “Make it an interesting place for doctors to come and live,” he said.
Rural healthcare is on the Liberal agenda, said MLA Tegart. The Princeton story is muh bigger than doctor recruitment and hospitals.
“The key was community involvement,” she said. “And only because it was community led does it continue to grow.”
She said the Liberal’s Rural Caucus is focussed on healthcare this year and are looking at quotas and training and ways to get doctors to come and stay in rural parts of the province.