Health care consultant’s research shows drop in West Kelowna residents’ emergency room visits

Research by Joanne Konnert may not help the ongoing argument that West Kelowna is in need of an urgent care centre.

Joanne Konnert

Joanne Konnert

Research by Joanne Konnert, health care consultant for West Kelowna, may not help the ongoing argument that West Kelowna is in need of an urgent care centre.

But the research does indicate the Westside is in need of more health care services.

According to Konnert, Westside residents’ trips to the emergency room decreased by 20 per cent from 2008 to 2012.

“It was a surprise to me—it wasn’t what I was thinking I would see,” Konnert told a crowd of about 50 at the West Kelowna Residents’ Association Annual General Meeting Wednesday.

“When I had seen the data four or five years ago, visits to the emergency department from this community were increasing…in 2008/2009, you had about 10,000 visits to the emergency department from the Westside. In 2011/2012, it was down to just 7,800.”

Konnert said that research included West Kelowna citizens’ visits to not only Kelowna General Hospital, but also Vernon Jubilee Hospital and Penticton Regional Hospital.

“If you run an urgent care centre, you won’t be looking after the full spectrum of every (person) who walks into an emergency department, they look after the ones that are less acute.”

She said even if all 7,800 people who attended the emergency room could have been helped by an urgent care centre, it would still only amount to an average of 15 or 16 patients per day.

“Most urgent care centres would say they need 60 (or) 100—they need a lot more than that.”

She added the news surprised several local physicians as well, especially considering 20 per cent of the Westside’s population is over the age of 65.

During the question period of the meeting, several WKRA directors suggested the 20 per cent statistic could have a negative impact on the case for a primary care facility, if included in Konnert’s report to council without further analysis. Director Ron Green noted the figures were “misleading.”

“Even at the 08/09 level, which was 10,000 visits, we still would only be looking at maybe 15 patients a day; most urgent care centres would run 60, 80 or 100. I’m not saying the data is everything, it’s one piece of the puzzle…but when you’re making very tough decisions about things, data will be one of the things that you look at,” said Konnert.

Regardless, Mayor Doug Findlater said the district will likely request that Konnert compare the 20 per cent drop with the rest of Okanagan residents’ emergency room visits to determine whether or not West Kelowna is unique in that regard.

Last summer the district announced it had contracted Konnert to investigate the possibility of acquiring a primary care facility on the Westside.

Konnert said her first job was to compile a list of physicians and health services currently available on the Westside. She credited the WKRA for doing much of that work in 2008.

She said there is lots of basic support for health care services on the Westside, but not a lot of specialty services.

“You have over 30 family physicians, which really is pretty good for a community this size,” said Konnert.

“However, you don’t have very many specialists over here.”

She said there are three urologists, an obstetrician, a rheumatologist and a physiatrist.

“(There are) no heart specialists or breathing specialists. That will probably come over time, but it does create some challenges for your population.”

Konnert said she will likely give council her final report at an April meeting and then it will be up to them to decide what the next steps will be.

“There’s no question that more service needs to be offered here in West Kelowna—it will take time for that to happen.”

District chief financial officer Jim Zaffino was the other guest speaker at Wednesday’s AGM. He spoke about how taxes relate to services in West Kelowna.


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