President of Texada Health Services Society Barb Egglestone is sounding the alarm due to the unknown status of finding a replacement doctor for the island community before its current physician retires in August 2023.
“Dr. Kevin Black has been our doctor on Texada Island at the Texada Island Health Centre for 25 years,” said Egglestone. “He gave his notice last year that he plans to retire in August of this year.”
The society acts in an advisory role to the medical centre and advocates for the needs of Texada residents. The island community, which is Electoral D of qathet Regional District, is unique among other Gulf Island communities because of its medical services, which fall under Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH).
“We have very qualified medical staff including two nurses, a doctor [Black was head of the Nova Scotia emergency department before moving to Texada], ambulance paramedics and volunteer firefighters,” said Egglestone. “Even if there is an emergency the medical staff will arrange for medivacs to transport people to the hospital.”
Without a potential doctor replacement, there is concern that Texada residents will have to travel to Powell River for medical services which require a physician, and as Egglestone pointed out, Powell River is already strained when it comes to local residents finding a primary care practitioner (PCP).
Dr. Black met a potential doctor for the island at a course he was taking, and was impressed.
“Black approached us [Texada Health Services Society] to see if we could cover the cost for the person and their family to visit the island and see if they like it,” said Egglestone.
The society paid for the visit, and the potential replacement island doctor and family were interested in relocating. However, because the doctor was not from Canada he didn’t have the qualifications required, specifically the 24 post-graduate practicum required to practice in BC.
“We had a potential doctor who was willing to come here and take over; they come from a war-torn region of the world and so they don’t want their name used [in this story] for fear of repercussion,” said Egglestone. “They have practiced for eight years in their country, but they don’t meet the qualifications in BC.”
The doctor is heading back to his war-torn country to try and take more courses in order to qualify here.
There is no universal standard across Canada as to what qualifications or practicum hours a medical student/doctor must have to practice, thus leading to frustrations among those working in medical centres and hospitals.
“My biggest gripe is that [the health ministry] says ‘we want international doctors here’ but they are not making it easy for them to get here,” said Egglestone. “There are probably good, qualified people out there and we should be making use of their skills.”
Bureaucracy and red tape is typical of a large health authority and VCH is no different.
“I have written letters to the BC Ministry of Health, BC premier David Eby and [Powell River-Sunshine Coast] MLA Nicholas Simons and they say it’s a policy issue with the College of Physicians and Surgeons [of BC],” added Egglestone.
She emphasized that 1,200 Texada Island residents currently depend on Dr. Black as their primary health-care provider. If he’s gone and there is no one to replace him, then those residents will have to go to Powell River.
In a response sent via email, VCH stated that it is committed to providing comprehensive health-care services and support to residents in its region, including Texada.
“We appreciate the retirement of Dr. Black is a significant change for Texada Island, and VCH will continue to operate this clinic and provide continuity of care for the community,” added VCH. “Unfortunately, staff and medical staff vacancies are common across BC and Canada’s health-care systems, and we are working with relevant partners, including the Divisions of Family Practice, to address any gaps in primary care in our communities of care.
“VCH continues to explore and implement a wide range of measures to help plan for the upcoming physician retirement on Texada Island. This includes targeted recruitment strategies, streamlined recruitment processes, and the redesign of staffing models or model of care, where appropriate.”
Although Dr. Black is retiring in August, he has agreed to work in another capacity on Texada until things are sorted out.
“Some seniors may not bother [getting medical help] because they think they may have to wait eight hours in an emergency, and so there is potential of people dying unnecessarily,” added Egglestone.
One concern Texada residents have about potentially being transported to Powell River is the fact that it will be the paramedics who will be doing the transporting, thus taking the ambulance service away from the island.
Currently the Province of BC has a physician Return of Service (ROS) program in place. All international medical graduates who complete their medical residency in BC are required to do a ROS for two years in underserved areas in BC.
As of last Wednesday, Texada qualified as a number two priority in the region [Powell River is number one] to receive a doctor.
“They give the doctor a signing bonus and they have to commit for two to three years,” said Egglestone. “Vancouver Coastal Health is putting this message out there to see if anyone wants to come and be the next doctor on Texada Island.”