Help is on the way for people in the Cowichan Valley without a family doctor.
The provincial government announced last week that they are funding new primary care networks across the province, and the Cowichan Valley is one of the places that’s going to get one, backed by $6.5 million per year.
This will involve 36.2 full-time equivalent health care providers, including everything from family physicians to nurse practitioners, registered nurses, social workers and a clinical pharmacist.
The goal is to get 16,750 patients attached to a primary health care provider over the next four years.
This is badly needed. Like many smaller and more rural communities there is a shortage of family doctors — not enough to go around. Any new doctor moving to the area has their patient roster filled quickly, and walk-in clinics and the Cowichan District Hospital emergency room feel the brunt of those still waiting.
In Lake Cowichan things have been especially difficult, the community having experienced a full-on crisis in the last decade as numbers dwindled, culminating when the last family doctor in the area closed up shop. Since then, services have been provided piecemeal by a variety of health care professionals, up to and including a community paramedic program.
Small communities across Canada have found it difficult to attract and retain family doctors. The overwhelming need actually works against the community, as anyone who moves in finds themselves quickly swamped, with few avenues for relief for holidays or illness because there may not be another doctor in the community to do it. It’s the chicken and the egg. Many also simply want to live in bigger cities, and there can be issues of financial interest and prestige, lifestyle and culture.
Even Duncan, more than a tiny dot on the map, has big recruitment problems.
All of which has left many, many people without a family doctor.
Family doctors are so important because for most people they are the entry point to the health care system. Think you’re having some kind of health issue? You call your family doctor and set up an appointment. If they can’t take care of your problem, referrals to specialists or services flow from there. Not having enough of them leads to clogged emergency rooms and people not getting the care they need in a timely manner. Family physicians are the first link in the chain on which the health care system is built.
The new primary care network aims to mend what is broken and shore up that foundation. It’s warmly welcome.