Local family doctors' anger at the elimination of Chilliwack General Hospital's sub-acute/rehabilitation unit shows the need for a better relationship between physicians and health authorities, the president of the British Columbia Medical Association (BCMA) told the Times Thursday.
This summer's closure of the 20-bed rehab unit enraged local doctors, who said they were not consulted about the project. At a town hall meeting in August to discuss the closure, Dr. Ralph Jones, the lead physician of the Chilliwack Division of Family Practice, publicly rejected Fraser Health's apology for the way the closure was announced.
BCMA president Dr. Shelley Ross, who is touring the province during her one-year term, met with local doctors last Wednesday. She said the dispute over the rehab unit shows how physicians have become distanced from the operation of local health authorities.
Whereas the BCMA and the Ministry of Health regularly work together to address issues of mutual concern, Ross said "we don't seem to have that good working relationship with the health authorities."
Ross says it's not only Chilliwack doctors who have had issues with their local health authority. She said doctors around the province have complained they are not consulted by health care decision-makers.
Health authorities, she said "decide this is the way it's going to be, and then there's no consultation and it happens . . . and that just does not go over well."
Mending those fences might be difficult, but Ross said it's important to encourage doctors-who may have distanced themselves in the past-to become more involved in their health authorities.
"We're trying to get more doctors into the leadership roles," she said.
Ross said the BCMA is working to increase physician engagement and involvement with health authorities.
But she said health authorities also have to do their part.
"Physicians only want to be engaged if what they talk about happens," she said. "They don't want the health authority to consult with them and then go do what they were going to do anyway. They want to make sure their ideas are incorporated into their plans."
Clinic is a great idea
While in Chilliwack, Ross visited the new Chilliwack Primary Care Seniors Clinic, the mission of which is to be a one-stop shop for seniors needing care for dementia and other complex health problems.
The clinic is a partnership between the Chilliwack Division of Family Practice and
the Fraser Health Authority and was designed with input from seniors with dementia, their families, and the Chilliwack Alzheimer's Society.
Ross said the clinic is a great idea and reflective of a "trend towards a team approach" in health care.
"With such a shortage of doctors of all kinds, whether they be general practice or specialists, we've got to make the best use of what we've got," she said. "There's things that doctors do best and there are things they can probably hand off to other professionals who can do it better."
But, she added, "It needs to be a co-ordinated team."
Doctor manpower crisis looms for the future
Ross also talked about the demographic challenges facing the Canadian health care system.
Communities across British Columbia continue to experience shortages of doctors and an aging population, Ross said. Making things worse is the fact that the average age of family doctors themselves is rising-the average physician is now 50 years old.
"If we think we have a health-care manpower crisis now, look 10 years down the road, especially if we're not getting the new graduates wanting to work the same way as the old ones," she said. "I don't think we've even seen the manpower shortage yet."