In May of this year the Community Hospital Forum opened an office on Vermilion Avenue to do whatever possible to help get the Emergency Room at Princeton General Hospital back open 24/7.
Rented and donated equipment and space is what the volunteers are working with.
Countless hours of research and actions towards this result has been performed by volunteers from this community, providing the Stakeholders Table with the information they need.
One of these volunteers, Dawn Gardner, was able to volunteer because she had free time due to surgery, and since recuperation she continues to volunteer at the forum daily, during her off-work hours.
“It has been a huge learning curve,” Gardener said. “In the beginning we didn’t know sweet diddley — but we have learned a lot.”
Gardner said the volunteers have spent enormous amounts of time talking with doctors, nurses, the Ministry of Health, community leaders, MLAs and industry representatives — anyone who could offer assistance.
They found that generally the reasons it was hard to get doctors to rural communities was because they had not been paid completely, had nowhere to stay and they were tired of paying extra expenses out of their own pockets.
The volunteers found out about a program called REEF (Rural Emergency Enhancement Fund) and were hopeful that by aquiring that funding, 24/7 ER services will be restored to the Princeton General Hospital.
“Interior Health Authority (IHA) seems to be throwing constant curve balls,” said Gardner.
The REEF application should have been administered already. Five communities: 100 Mile House, Golden, Lytton, Pemberton and Tumbler Ridge have REEF funding in place up to the end of March 2013.
Local industry has come forward to supply bridge-funding as a temporary stop-gap measure to assist in the acquisition of locums to cover the ER until REEF funding is in place.
Forum volunteers then worked towards finding housing for locums to stay in. They found a local contractor, who could offer just what was required.
On July 16, Council of the Town of Princeton announced that together with the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen (RDOS) they would lease a townhouse, fully furnished and maintained for $2,200 per month from Fred and Company Builders Inc., in order to supply housing for locums.
On May 28, during the second protest rally in Princeton, directly after a meeting with IHA and town council, protestors asked IHA employees how they were planning to bring back 24/7 ER care. They were told that two external agencies wold be used to help recruit locums. “The long-term (solution) is to bring physicians to town to establish practice… In the short-term we need to get people from out of town to help us out,” said IHA senior medical director Jon Slater.
“We’re doing the work for IHA” said Gardner, they’re laughing—they can’t find their ass with both hands through all their meetings and red tape!”
On to finding locums—sounds simple, and it actually was. The volunteers contacted residents in the community to find out what doctors had worked in Princeton previously (checked out prescription labels) created a list and began making calls.
“Within two days, working together with Dr. Eva’s office (Dr. Eva working on recruitment as well) we had five confirmed weekends booked with doctors,” said Gardner.
“On July 20 I got a call from IHA telling me to stop recruiting locums,” said Gardner. She said she was told that doctors that are recruited have to have Princeton General Hospital privileges and that qualifications had to be checked and doctors had to be approved.
“Well, if they already worked here before…” was the statement Gardner said she responded with.
On Monday, July 30 the Spotlight contacted IHA to find out where the ER stood on opening 24/7. Susan Brown, administrator for Community Services South Okanagan reported that “they are still getting physicians to sign up—there are still gaps.” She said that the Princeton folks were doing a wonderful job of getting the word out. Brown explained that the local physicians need to agree with coverage and feel sure that the shifts would be covered before the ER could actually re-open. “We don’t want to be see-sawing in the community—we need doctors to commit to the weekend shifts.” she said.
Brown said that the goal is to work towards 24/7 ER services, “we want it open as much as Princeton does,” she added.
As for the REEF application, Brown reported that they were finalizing details and it was in the process of being submitted. As for how long the approval would take, Brown said that the approval process was unknown but that she “didn’t anticipate that it would take a long time.”
Back at the forum office, the volunteers will carry on. They will continue working to provide the Stakeholders Table with any and all information that they can to get the ER back to 24/7 operation.