“Two physicians in Indian Head will act as back up for the nurse practitioners for advice, or if they need to refer patients with care needs beyond their scope of practice,” said Fran Neuls, Director of Clinical Services for Rural Facilities. The doctors will also visit long-term care residents monthly.
Balcarres’s Dr. Theodora Brown is moving her practice to Regina. Retention of rural physicians is an issue – the annual turnover rate of physicians working in rural areas is 18 per cent compared to 11 per cent in Regina and Saskatoon. Many question why so few doctors want to work in rural communities. Esplin says there’s an easy answer – lifestyle.
“I don’t blame Dr. Brown for leaving. What quality of life does she have when she’s on call 24-7? She can’t leave. She can’t do anything with her family,” said Esplin.
Neuls said the health region is working with communities around Balcarres to create a new model.
“We’re looking to recruit six to nine physicians to service the needs of that area. We’re looking at having Fort Qu’Appelle as the hub and communities like Lestock, Raymore, Punnichy and Balcarres would be the spokes,” Neuls said.
Doctors would take turns going to the “spokes” to provide daily clinics. Esplin is optimistic because doctors could take turns being on call. Until then, Esplin has no doubt the community will be affected by the loss of the fulltime family doctor.
“It’ll be a trickle down effect. You’re losing patients that are going to be coming into town to see the doctor who will then take their prescription to the local drug store and go to the grocery store,” he said, adding it’s tough for the community to grow without a doctor.
“It doesn’t set a good example for people who want to move to your town. They say ‘Oh they got a hospital, great. Oh, but they don’t have any doctors. Well maybe that’s not the greatest place to move to,’” he said.
The number of licensed physicians in Saskatchewan is actually growing. In March 2007, there were 1,742. In September 2011 there were 2,009.
Regardless of the stats, Esplin said they’re just focused on finding a doctor. “We hope that it can be solved quickly. We feel it probably won’t be, but we can always hope.”