Critical Condition Part 1: How the family doctor crisis is impacting Island families

Critical Condition Part 1: How the family doctor crisis is impacting Island families
WatchAs tens of thousands on Vancouver Island go without a family physician, one doctor says the system is no longer

Brenda Jordison is used to running a household but for the past two years, she’s been forced to take on another role.

“Dr. Google and Dr. Mom!” the Sooke mom joked. “What other choice do we have right?”

After the Jordison’s family doctor retired they had nowhere to go but the local walk-in clinic. In the face of long waits and short visits with multiple doctors Jordison’s ailing husband was getting sicker.

“He was having heart palpitations, seizures, passing out, lethargy, all, he thought he was going to die every day,” she said.

Using her iPad and her husband’s medical charts she diagnosed him with a severe vitamin deficiency — a side effect from one of his medications. He’s since been treated and has recovered but the Jordison’s story isn’t unique.

According to Island Health statistics, 24.1 per cent of Greater Victoria’s population doesn’t have family doctor. That’s slightly above the B.C. average of 23.5% and higher than the rest of Island Health which is 21.4%.

“I just go to the emergency if I have to or I come to the clinic,” said Pauline Stewart lives in Esquimalt.

In Esquimalt the situation is so critical people line up every morning hoping to see the only two doctors in town.

“Two physicians is not enough for a community of 19,000,” said Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins. “Some people are not accessing health care because it’s too difficult,” she said.

Dr. Paul Brigel’s situation offers a glimpse into what’s going wrong with family medicine in this province, particularly in urban areas.

The 73-year-old Victoria doctor is being forced into retirement because his expenses, like rent and wages, are starting to overtake his income.

“This old fee system doesn’t work anymore, it’s no longer financially sustainable,” he said.

With an aging population comes increased risk of disease and Dr. Brigel finds himself spending more time with each patient. The problem is he only makes about $30 per patient, regardless of how much time he spends with them.

“I’ll sometimes spend 30-45 minutes with a patient, even though I don’t have the time, but the patient needs it and I’ve got to look after them,” he said.

And to top it all off, he makes nothing for the hours of paperwork he does each day.

Brigel says when his medical students come through his doors and see how a family practice works these days they often turn to more lucrative specialties instead.

It’s all culminating in a crisis.

“It’s dire out there, you just have to stay well,” said Stewart.

Work is underway to try to address the problem.

Last month the Ministry of Health and the Doctors of BC signed a new agreement that includes a $35.7 million fund to help family physicians in cities like Victoria and Vancouver cover overhead costs like rent and wages.

Airing Wednesday, June 26 at 5 p.m., Critical Condition: Part Two will look more closely at how the crisis is being addressed and how soon we might expect to see some relief.

Graham CoxGraham Cox

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