Lack of part-time docs forces clinic to reduce hours

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The Medical Clinic in the Hay River Regional Health Centre is coping with a temporary shortage of physicians. NNSL file photo
The Medical Clinic in the Hay River Regional Health Centre is coping with a temporary shortage of physicians.
NNSL file photo

The reduced hours at the Hay River Medical Clinic, which began on April 23 and will run to May 17, have been caused by two locums physicians who could not make their planned trips to the community.

“Normally in Hay River, we’ve got three full-time physicians,” explained Bonnie Kimble, the acting CEO of the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority. “Unfortunately what’s happened is we have two of them away and, up until a couple of weeks ago, we thought we had this time period covered. But two visiting locums unfortunately had to cancel their visit, and that’s what’s left us in this position.”

Kimble said the health authority has no control over that kind of thing.

Locums – physicians who work in various communities for short periods of time – normally come to Hay River for two weeks.

In a public notice on April 18, the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority stated that it is “temporarily experiencing” a limited number of physicians and nurse-practitioners in the community.

Beginning April 23 and ending May 3, no walk-in appointments have been available at the Medical Clinic.

From May 6 to May 17, there will be limited booked appointments, the morning walk-in clinic will be open, and there will be no afternoon walk-in clinic.

However, the emergency department at the Hay River Regional Health Centre will continue to be open 24 hours a day.

Speaking on April 24, Kimble said the health authority has worked to find replacements for the two locums, either physicians or nurse-practitioners.

“So we started calling people who have been to Hay River to cover various stages and we’ve been able to successfully cover our 24-hour call schedule,” she said.

Kimble said priorities like emergency, inpatient care, long-term care and homecare are covered.

She said the health authority has been “piecemealing it together” as locum physicians arrive for short periods of time.

“We’ve got some really good people who are coming in and out of the community,” she said. “So there’s no set number of doctors, but there is always a call doctor.”

Kimble, who is the quality risk manager with the health authority, said she understands people are frustrated with the situation.

“We totally get the community’s frustration with this,” she said. “We’re working really hard trying to fill these positions. It’s our community and we really want this to work out.”

In normal times, there are usually two or three locums in the community, either physicians or nurse-practitioners.

The health authority is also co-ordinating with Ring’s Pharmacy to make it easier during this time for people to fill prescriptions.

Pharmacist Larry Ring, one of the owners of Ring’s Pharmacy, said the Medical Clinic has asked the pharmacy to fax repeat prescriptions if need be, but they still have to be approved by a doctor at the hospital.

“So that’s helping them streamline the system right now,” he said. “But we’ve always been able to do that. It’s just not done regularly. Usually the doctor likes to see the patient in person. So we’re helping out in that regard, but that’s not any change to legality or change to the pharmacy regulations whatsoever.”

Ring noted that pharmacists in the NWT can also do what’s called a continued care prescription, which would allow an extension for up to 30 days, but only in cases which meet a number of criteria and don’t involve narcotics or controlled drugs.

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