Second clinic in Burns Lake seen as crucial

Burns Lake physician recruitment drive ramping up.

More than 20 people were on hand for the annual general meeting of the Burns Lake Medical Clinic Society (BLMCS) on Nov. 7 to get an update on how plans for a new medical clinic in Burns Lake were progressing.

Sheilagh Wilson, Co-ordinator of Physician Recruitment with Northern Health, announced that Charlene Thomas, a consultant for physician recruitment,  had been specifically assigned to help Burns Lake find more full-time resident doctors.  Both were Wilson and Thomas were at the meeting and they made a presentation describing their work with Fort St. James and what their experience with that recruitment drive would bring to Burns Lake.

Thomas and Wilson were very successful in Fort St. James where they were able to hire three new doctors into the community.  They were able to find doctors for Fort St. James through a process of familiarizing themselves with the particular qualities of that community and then impressing those qualities upon potential doctors at international career fairs.

Their experience in Fort St. James was that if the recruiters understood well what a region had to offer, then they were able to recognize and connect with physicians who were looking for the kind of experience and lifestyle they might find in that community without even knowing it.

The approach in Burns Lake would be the same, with recruitment retention being as important as recruitment itself.  “We need to find physicians that want to live in Burns Lake,” said Wilson, “and not just come for a holiday.”

The situation for foreign doctor recruitment has been recently made more difficult by the cancellation of a reciprocity agreement that used to exist between Canada and South Africa.  The agreement has ended so Northern Health can no longer recruit from South Africa, although it can recruit from the U.S., Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

This change to the rules also meant that a doctor the BLMCS had lined up had to take an opportunity elsewhere in the province.

“Burns Lake needs six or seven full time positions,” said Paula VanTine, Vice President of the BLMCS.  “The biggest obstacles to finding those doctors are the long hours, heavy workload and lack of modern technology in Burns Lake.”

The long hours and heavy workload are a catch-22 for recruiters.  It’s difficult to sell Burns Lake as a destination until there’s a critical mass of practitioners already on here so that any talk of life balance can be realistic.  As Wilson explained that’s why the recruitment drive will target at least two hirings so that they can relieve each others’ work load for vacation and recreation time.

VanTine hopes that the development of a modern medical clinic in Burns Lake will go a long way towards making the district more appealing to potential physicians.   She sees a synergy between a new clinic and the new hospital to be built next year.  “The new clinic will assist in drawing new physicians, as will the new hospital,” she said.

VanTine doesn’t consider the proposed new clinic to be competition for the existing clinic.  “There’s plenty of room in Burns Lake for another clinic and more doctors,” she said.  “Smithers has 17 doctors in town and Vanderhoof has 14, so Burns Lake can handle another clinic.”

The BLMCS worked with Tony Mondia of Community Futures Nadina to develop a detailed business plan.  Not counting the costs of building renovations or construction, the BLMCS would need to have $100,000 in startup cash to cover anticipated medical equipment, computer hardware and software and other incidentals.

The has BLMCS received approval for a grant of up to $50,000 from the Nechako-Kitamaat Development Fund, and the society has $30,500 in its account.

Between the their own savings and the commitment of NKDF, the society is well on it way to having the money that they need for start up costs.

A building for the facility hasn’t been selected, but a location is under consideration, as well as the possibility of putting up a new building.  The costs associated with this are not included in the $100,000 that they need.

The clinic would operate under a ‘fee for service’ scenario where the clinic is able to bill Northern Health for each patient.  The clinic would keep 20 per cent of the billing to cover operating expenses and to develop reserves, while the doctor would get the balance.

Grants won’t cover the full cost of what the society needs to raise.  Although they  will rely on society member donations and community efforts to raise money, VanTine anticipates that the board will arrange a loan to finance the project.


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