It appears things will be back to normal at the Hay River Medical Clinic by May 13.
Since April 23, the clinic has been experiencing reduced hours because of a shortage of physicians.
“It looks like we’re going to be returning to our average complement of practitioners on the 13th,” said Bonnie Kimble, acting CEO with the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority, in a presentation to town council on April 27. “That’s kind of our light at the end of the tunnel.”
When the reduction in services began, it was originally estimated that things would not be back to normal at the medical clinic until May 20.
Kimble told council that the health authority has been constantly recruiting for locum physicians during the shortage.
Locums work in various communities for short periods of time.
“Every day we’re pulling somebody in if we can get them for a 24-hour shift or if we can get them for a 48-hour shift,” Kimble said.
The reduced hours at the clinic were caused when two locum physicians could not make their planned trips to the community. They had been scheduled to replace two physicians who were on leave.
“We did have coverage,” said Kimble. “We had a couple of locums booked to help us during this time. Unfortunately, they had to cancel on us, which left us in this position.”
During the shortage of physicians, priority at the Hay River Regional Health Centre has been given to emergency, inpatients, long-term care and homecare.
Still, the number of inpatients has been capped at around seven or eight.
Kimble also told council that staff is managing a busier workload from clients coming into emergency who would normally be seen in the medical clinic.
“There has been a slowdown, but not an unreasonable backlog,” she said of emergency services. “So everybody is being seen. The wait time is three to four hours for the lower-level emergencies.”
Councillors expressed a number of concerns about the overall situation.
Coun. Keith Dohey asked about a rumour that a doctor had been on call for 72 hours the previous weekend and was back in the medical clinic on a Monday afternoon.
“Would that be a common practice, or is that obviously because of the shortage?” he asked, wondering about the possibility of physician fatigue.
“It’s because of the shortage,” said Kimble.
“It’s not an ideal situation for anybody, but what we do is we manage it with the staff,” she added. “So the staff work to give the doctor breaks. We’ve got a sleep room in the medical clinic so that the doctor can go and get some rest.”
Brian Willows, the public administrator with the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority and also a town councillor, told council that the health authority probably could have done a better job in communicating with the public during the physician shortage.
“I don’t think we communicated as effectively as we could have, and we’ve learned some lessons,” Willows said. “And hopefully going forward we’ll do a better job.”
In Hay River, there are normally three full-time physicians.