Protest organizer Marilyn Mulldoon and her husband Daniel Wong hold up signs at the Gyro Park bandshell in Osoyoos, following a June 2017 rally to advocate for more health coverage in the South Okanagan. Western News file photo

Ontario town could be a model for rural Okanagan health

Osoyoos is looking at a township-funded health centre — a tried and true model for Goderich

If an Ontario community’s experience is any indication, a Town of Osoyoos medical centre initiative could blaze new trails for rural B.C. health coverage.

In the early 2000s, the Town of Goderich, current population of about 8,000, had many of the same doctor shortage problems as towns like Osoyoos and Oliver.

“We had a lot of doctors at the retirement age, and some of those doctors had numerous numbers of patients, and as a result, we ended up with a fairly large orphan list,” said Larry McCabe, the town’s chief administrative officer.

Related: Osoyoos gets funds for health-care needs study

With five or six doctors around 2004, McCabe said the town has managed to more than triple its roster over the past 14 years.

In the South Okanagan patient openings with family physicians are few and far between and the local hospital has seen issues like emergency department closures due to doctor shortages. A petition among Osoyoos residents last year suggested the town build a walk-in clinic to help with the struggling medical issues. Instead, local doctors offered the idea of a centralized medical facility. The town has since successfully applied for a $100,000 grant for a feasibility study.

Related: IH CEO talks emergency care in South Okanagan

Enter Goderich.

“From the municipality’s perspective, in 2004, we started planning to build a medical clinic, the town did. And then in 2005 in May, we opened it up, and it was about a $4-million (facility) across from the hospital,” McCabe said.

“It was designed to bring all the doctors that existed in the town and bring new ones into that facility, and we did that. In 2017, we added an almost $2-million expansion to do a blood donor clinic under a separate lease, and also more space for more doctors.”

In that time, too, the province took an active role, creating the family health team, which, in part, was tasked with recruiting doctors.

Related: Small group rallies for better health coverage in South Okanagan

And while not all towns have $4-6 million to cough up for a medical centre, they might not suffer financially in the long run.

“Actually the medical centre clinic that I just mentioned is in the black,” McCabe said.

“The leases are paid to the town and the family health team lease is paid into individual doctors’ leases, so it’s been very successful that way. It’s provided a centre for the clinic and various other associated medical practitioners that are funded either through the province, probably, or individually through their practices.”

Related: SOGH renos just one formality from approval

In Osoyoos, council set up a committee, including the mayor and local health professionals and put out a request for proposals to complete the feasibility study, tasked with looking at health-care needs, benefits from a centre, funding models, including a P3 partnership, and costs of a facility.

“I’ve heard from a couple of other communities up the Valley and also Interior Health, and they’re really quite interested in what we’re doing,” Mayor Sue McKortoff said on Monday, when council voted for Vancouver firm Collier International to run the study.

“I think this is a leading situation where, by doing this and depending on what the results are, it could become a model or a solution for other communities, as well, so I’m happy that we’re taking the lead on this,” Coun. Mike Campol added.

Related: Another ER closure at SOGH

And if Goderich is any example, Osoyoos just might blaze new trails for health-care delivery in B.C.

“That’s been very successful. That’s been a great retention tool,” McCabe said, adding he, the mayor and the town’s treasurer also sit on a physician retention committee.

“There’s been a very active participation team put together composed of the hospital representatives and the town. So that’s basically, I think, been the success.”

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

@dustinrgodfrey

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