The small Vancouver Island community of Port McNeill will only have one doctor in less than three months.
The Port McNeill Medical Clinic serves about 3,500 people in the immediate area and the doctors who practice there also cover an area from Woss to Kingcome Inlet.
However, Dr. Joy Mijares, is set to depart at the end of April, leaving the Port McNeill area with just one remaining doctor.
“One doctor isn’t enough. We’d like to retain our doctors and not see them leave the community,” said Port McNeill Mayor Gaby Wickstrom.
Wickstrom says doctor shortages isn’t a new problem there or in many small rural communities.
“So that leaves me to ask what is the issue? How can we do something different and perhaps Port McNeill and the north island could be a pilot project for something fresh and new,” she said.
Dr. Prean Armogam, the remaining physician in town, came from the United Kingdom 15 years ago and has stayed while other doctors have come and gone. He says the issue is the current rural model for healthcare that leaves doctors running most aspects of the business without support, leaving less time for patient care.
“It takes away from the clinical focus and giving time to your patients which is what we primarily want to do,” he said. “Running the business piece of it is why we’ve asked for so long to change the model to focus mostly on the clinical care and the care delivery rather than running a business.”
The current instability is a concern to many local residents and prompted one couple to get a doctor in Campbell River for their baby.
“Rather than not seeing a doctor, not being able to access regular care here we just decided the two-hour drive was our best option,” said Laura Haynes.
Dr. Granger Avery opened the clinic in 1974. He’s now retired but still lives in Port McNeill and says there should be a new rural model.
“What we need to do is what I call de-clutter the doctor so the doctor doesn’t have to do stuff that someone else could do or arguably do better to allow the doctor to actually practice the way he or she has been taught,” said Avery.
He says a model similar to what exists in Port Hardy — where Island Health owns and operates the medical clinic, removing much of the overhead for doctors — would be a start.
In a statement to CHEK News, Island Health said it is aware that a third independent physician has made the personal choice to leave the community at the end of April and because the Port McNeill Medical Clinic is a privately owned and operated clinic, physicians can choose where they want to locate their medical practice.
“While Island Health is not responsible for recruiting physicians into private practice, we have been supporting recruitment efforts to bring additional physicians to the community for some time,” the health authority said. “For several months, Island Health has been exploring options to support and stabilize the future of primary care, emergency, and inpatient services for the residents of Port McNeill. This includes both short-term options, and long-term planning.”
However, Dr. Armogam says he has not been consulted by Island Health about what changes are being considered.
A meeting between Port McNeill councillors and top Island Health officials is scheduled to take place Thursday.