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Burns Lake doctors decide to go it alone

Negotiations over the operation and ownership of the Burns Lake Medical Clinic have now ceased, with local doctors deciding to maintain control of the privately owned clinic.
The Burns Lake Medical Clinic will continue to be a privately owned clinic after negotiations end.

Negotiations over the operation and ownership of the Burns Lake Medical Clinic have now ceased, with local doctors deciding to maintain control of the privately owned clinic.

Since a Jan. 28, 2011 letter to Northern Health alerting them to the fact that all Burns Lake doctors would be resigning their hospital privileges as of April 30, Northern Health and physicians have been in negotiations.

Discussions over transitioning the Burns Lake Medical Clinic to a Northern Health operated clinic also ensued.

"One of the reasons that we had involved Northern Health with the clinic in the first place was because we were afraid that the costs of running the clinic would be so great that we wouldn’t manage to sustain it, "Dr. Alan Hill, chief of staff explained.

Just recently doctors agreed with Northern Health to postpone the date of the take over of the clinic from the end of April to the end of May. "After some thought, we realized that the month of May was going to be the most difficult [busy] month for us as physicians so we decided that if we can make it through May then we won’t have so much of a problem with the following months," Dr. Hill explained.

"We gave Northern Health as much notice as we could, to give them time to pull together a rescue plan. With the delay, we are taking on the caretaker role [anyway], which we had hoped that Northern Health would adopt. Therefore we [decided we] would continue to be responsible for the running of the clinic," Dr. Hill added.

Doctors at the Burns Lake Medical Clinic have also had the support of some local and not so local physicians to relieve the patient load.

"Dr. George Magee, Dr. Richard Beever from Fraser Lake and Dr. Shannon Douglas have helped out as well as faithful long term locums, Dr. Paul Cathie and Dr. Stephen Bond. A new doctor, Dr. Trevor Campbell, is also arriving from Victoria this week to test the waters. We hope that he will stay and help out on a part time basis," Dr. Hill added.

Dr. Gregory Norman, who is retiring on May 5 will also be helping out as a locum from time to time.

According to Dr. Hill the help is temporary, but long term. "Long enough to tide us over," he said.

"I am delighted to report that with this support we have been able to cover [by schedule] the on call needs at the Lakes District Hospital emergency room every day for the month of May."

"June and July look promising too but we are taking each month at a time," he added. According to Dr. Hill Northern Health is continuing to accept the final responsibility for on going emergency room coverage when local doctors can not provide sufficient coverage.  "We are liaising closely with them in this regard," Dr. Hill said.

He added, Northern Health's Dr. Susan MacDonald, Dr. David Butcher, chief operating officer Michael McMillan and Dennis Cleaver have put in many hours in the background.

"They have travelled to Victoria and elsewhere on behalf of Burns Lake to convince the government and others that we are worth fighting for and keeping and we have been encouraged by their efforts on our behalf over the last few months, We are grateful for the stimulus they have given us and the determination they have shown on our behalf," he added.

McMillan said in a letter addressed to mayor Bernice Magee announcing the recent developments, that he is also grateful to the local physicians who put in a lot of effort to develop solutions to the problems.

"Continued and significant effort will be required to ensure a long term sustainable solution to these and future challenges," he wrote.

According to McMillan, Dr. McDonald, Northern Interior medical director will work with the Burns Lake physicians to sustain emergency room coverage over the summer and into the future as recruitment efforts continue.

Dr. Hill said he is also appreciative of the support and encouragement from patients over the last few months." We are not out of the woods yet but we think we can see an end to the situation," he said adding, "We are hoping to see a doctor arriving [from the United States] sometime during the summer, once Immigration has finished with him."

McMillan also confirmed that there is a signed letter of offer from the international physician. "We are also hopeful that another doctor will accept a part time position in the near future," he said.