ADDRESSING HEALTH NEEDS Dr. Greg Selinger, left, and Dr. Tim Phillips of the South Okanagan Similkameen Division of Family Practice speak about the new Primary Care network during an announcement in Penticton on Friday. (John Arendt/Summerland Review)

Province to bolster number of doctors and medical services in the South Okanagan

Expect six new GPs, five new nurse practitioners and 11 additional health-care professionals.

A primary-care network (PCN) is being created for the South Okanagan Similkameen, bringing additional resources to the region and allowing for planning a new team-based primary-care clinic.

Over the next three years, up to 22 new health-care providers will be recruited to work in the PCN. This includes six new general practitioners, five new nurse practitioners and 11 additional health-care professionals ranging from registered nurses and social workers to a pharmacist.

“We know many people in the South Okanagan Similkameen region are challenged to find consistent primary care,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health.

READ MORE: PEACHLAND’S DOCTORS MOVING OUT OF THE DISTRICT

“Creating a primary-care network in Summerland, Penticton and Okanagan Falls is a step forward in providing thousands of residents in the region with access to the comprehensive primary-care services they need and deserve. Over time, we will bring more communities to the network, so more people across the region can have easier and faster access to quality health care.”

With the new and existing providers, the PCN will improve access to care and strengthen support for patients and providers to attach thousands of patients in the South Okanagan Similkameen to regular primary care, starting in the communities of Summerland, Penticton and Okanagan Falls. Over time, the PCN will expand to include Oliver, Osoyoos, Keremeos, Princeton and surrounding First Nations communities.

“What we’re delivering today will make life better here,” Dix said.

The PCN will work toward opening a new team-based care clinic in Penticton, Summerland and Okanagan Falls, which is anticipated to open in 2020. The clinic will provide extended hours of service and help address a portion of the attachment needs in the community.

By expanding hours of care, the new network will alleviate pressures on emergency rooms. Dix said one in five patients visiting emergency rooms could be getting better care elsewhere.

The three communities have a combined population of 57,746 and are expected to grow to 60,040 by 2024 and 63,593 by 2032.

Dr. Greg Selinger, board chair with the South Okanagan Similkameen Division of Family Practice, said it is becoming increasingly difficult for residents in the region to find a family doctor.

“We’re not able to keep up,” he said, explaining that doctors are retiring while the population is increasing. “In the next while, we’re expecting quite a few retirements.”

“As physicians, we want the best for our patients and are excited for everyone in our community to have access to primary care,” said Dr. Tim Phillips, vice-chair and physician lead with the South Okanagan Similkameen Division of Family Practice.

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The new services will be integrated over the next three years with over 50 general practitioners located in 20 existing primary-care clinics in Penticton, Summerland and Okanagan Falls, and will expand to include additional clinics and practitioners in the surrounding communities. The network will partner new and existing health-care professionals with the health authority and community organizations as part of a networked, team-based approach to providing care.

“Previously, primary-care providers often worked in silos, shouldering the workload and administrative duties,” said Dix. “By linking primary-care providers in networks we will help to put the patient at the centre of their own care and reduce the workload and stress that providers face.”

Chad Eneas, chief of the Penticton Indian Band, said the new initiative will improve health care in the region.

“I think we can be more effective through collaboration with each other,” he said. “It addresses some of the gaps in our community an in health care.”

READ MORE: MORE DOCTORS IN LAKE COUNTRY

The PCN will focus on the specific needs of the community and improve health services identified as high priority for the community, including:

  • enhanced access to regular, extended and after-hours services for comprehensive primary care;
  • provision of team-based care through an interdisciplinary team of allied health professionals; and
  • increased access to both primary-care practices.

The PCN will operate in close partnership and collaboration with the South Okanagan Similkameen Division of Family Practice, local First Nations and Interior Health. PCNs are also being implemented in Fraser northwest communities and in Burnaby.

The provincial government is providing approximately $4.4 million in annual funding to the South Okanagan Similkameen region by the third year, as net new positions are added and patients are attached.

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COLLABORATIVE EFFORT Chief Chad Eneas of the Penticton Indian Band said the new Primary Care Network is an example of a collaboration to improve health care delivery. (John Arendt/Summerland Review)

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