Burns Lake and the surrounding area will have no regular doctors working at the Lakes District Hospital at end of April 2011, when Dr. Lennard Pretorius, chief of staff Dr. Alan Hill, Dr. Michael Graetz and Dr. Gregory Norman’s recent resignations take effect.
The four doctors all handed in their resignations to Northern Health last week giving the required 90 days notice and will only be available to work at the hospital until April 30, 2011.
Earlier last week when Lakes District News spoke with Dr. Hill, he said the doctors were considering their options after Dr. Pretorius had been the first of the four doctors to put in his resignation at both the hospital and the medical clinic.
Dr. Pretorius is leaving the community at the end of April, which means that just three doctors will remain,
“We [the remaining doctors] are working hard to keep the clinic open,” said Dr. Hill, at that time.
The Burns Lake Medical Clinic is run privately by local doctors and is not administered by Northern Health.
When Lakes District News asked Dr. Hill what the resignation of Dr. Pretorius means for local patients he responded by saying, “This is something that has not yet been determined.”
Then late last week Northern Health’s chief operating officer Michael McMillan confirmed to Lakes District News that Northern Health had received resignations from all four of Burns Lake’s doctors.
“Three have resigned and one will be retiring,” he said.
“It is a challenging situation,” McMillan added.
Dr. Hill also confirmed the news that all of the local doctors had resigned, but said the resignations only effect their duties at the Lakes District Hospital.
“We have all resigned only as far as the hospital is concerned,” Dr. Hill said.
“Myself, Dr. Graetz and Dr. Norman are not leaving the community, we will just no longer be working with Northern Health at the hospital,” he added.
He went on to say that currently the doctors are overworked and are tired.
“By resigning our hospital privileges for the time being, it gives Northern Health the leeway they need to reorganize heath care in the hospital, to get some doctors, or in this case maybe nurses in to help out,” Dr. Hill said.
McMillian said that Northern Health do recognize that the situation at the hospital is critical and are working hard to change things in order to be able to attract physicians to the area in a way that is sustainable and that provides the doctors with the necessary support they need to continue their work in the community.
“We have had a good conversation with the doctors and communicated to them that we want to provide the best support to medical staff,” McMillan said.
As of now McMillan said the situation looks hopeful in that discussions are continuing with the local doctors and a resolution may be achieved.
“We are hoping that one or more of the physicians may stay on at the hospital if we can come to a resolution. Late [Thursday afternoon] we had a good discussion about the kinds of support that medical personnel require, so I believe there is some opportunity there [for some of the doctors to continue working in Burns Lake],” McMillan added.
“Right now nothing changes and it is our intent to fully support the emergency department. There will continue to be 24/7 emergency medical coverage in Burns Lake. After April 30, 2011 there will be locums [a temporary doctor who works in place of a regular doctor] that will come in. Other communities have gone through this as well and have had locums come in to provide service,” McMillan said.
“Northern Health is committed to the Lakes District Hospital, to the emergency department and to the patients. We know that the people of Burns Lake need primary medical care and access to that care in Burns Lake.”
“The resignations do not give us the leeway as we already had that, but it provides us with the opportunity to look at the situation in a different way. For example in Fraser Lake there is a contract with the physicians to pay for their services. In Burns Lake the clinic is private and the physicians bill directly for each patient so we may be looking at contracting to pride primary health care. We are working with Dr. Hill and locums do come in already, we had a locum doctor in Burns Lake for a year previously but he had to leave due to family circumstances. They are a normal part of the system, we also use them to fill in for time off and sustain services,” McMillan said.
He was unable to provide further information at this time, but did say Northern Health are continuing the discussions with the Burns Lake doctors and are working hard to keep up their communications with the public.
He went on to say that the public can use the 811 hot line which offers non emergency advice on health care.
“People can phone 811 and a nurse will provide advice on treatment, or advise them to seek further medical treatment by seeing a doctor. I encourage the public to use this service,” McMillan added.
Burns Lake is not alone with a shortage in doctors as just recently Dr. Peter Morry, long time Houston doctor also announced his retirement, leaving behind 3,500 case files and patients who have been told to either travel to Smithers or Burns Lake for any medical treatment.
Fort St. James mayor Sandra Harwood also announced at a recent Regional District of Bulkley Nechako board meeting that her community is also coping with a doctor leaving the community.
“I don’t think that this situation is unique to our regional district, I think it is a problem for all regional districts in the North,” she said.
Dr. Graetz and Dr. Norman both work on a part time basis at the Burns Lake Medical Clinic, while Dr. Hill works on a full time basis. Dr. Pretorius currently works full time at the clinic until April 30, 2011.