By Vanessa Broadbent
With doctors at South Okanagan General Hospital (SOGH) still earning less than their colleagues at other locations in the area, the appeal to work in other hospitals continues to grow.
Three of SOGH’s emergency room (ER) doctors have applied to work in Penticton Regional Hospital’s (PRH) ER.
Dr. Jaco Bellingan, Chief of Staff of SOGH’s ER, said that the doctors applied for privileges to the hospital, meaning that they won’t start working full-time in Penticton, but instead are available to fill open shifts when necessary.
However, Bellingan said that he’s heard of plans for PRH to hire two more full-time doctors for their ER, which he can see potentially being filled by SOGH doctors.
“This is in my opinion just a stepping stone,” he said. “Naturally one can assume these three doctors will apply for those full-time positions.”
With doctors at SOGH’s ER still earning less than those at PRH, the higher wages are enticing. Bellingan said that on average, doctors earn 30 per cent more at PRH.
But he also said that the work load in Penticton is also less, another factor that pulls doctors to relocate.
At PRH, doctors are one of two on shift at all times, have specialist and radiology support, access to technicians and therapists. At SOGH, Bellingan said they’re the only doctor doing everything.
“We recruit successfully, just to lose these new doctors after a while to greener pastures,” he said. “Doctors who’ve worked at both SOGH and PRH ERs will tell you how working at SOGH is tougher and more stressful, but despite this the pay at PRH is much better.”
Currently, there are 15 doctors working in the ER at SOGH, but without a change in wages, Bellingan feels a risk of losing them, which could lead to staffing shortages and potentially ER closures.
In 2017, from June 4-5 the department closed, as well as on Aug. 13 for 17 hours. Bellingan doesn’t see more closures occurring in the next six months, but there is a possibility if doctors leave and the hospital is looking for recruits.
“If we do not retain our current physicians or recruit more, we may be in trouble again come September.”
SOGH’s Medical Staff Association Executive Committee has been advocating for higher wages for ER doctors and is now waiting for approval for a wage raise from the Ministry of Health. After working with Interior Health (IH) over the past year, IH supported staff in applying for an alternative payment program, which will see doctors paid per hour, not per patient.
Bellingan said it’s unsure when or if the application will be approved. At the beginning of February the committee was told that, “A formal response can be expected shortly.”
The Ministry of Health has confirmed that they are currently reviewing the application, and stated that they could not give an expected date for approval.