The Sun Country Health Region is in good financial shape going into 2013, but is also facing a significant challenge in the recruitment of doctors, with Weyburn facing one of the largest needs for physicians in years, said CEO Marga Cugnet in a year-end interview.
Speaking of the challenges that Sun Country is facing, Cugnet said recruitment of physicians “has been our biggest challenge. Just before Christmas, we had to close Arcola … while Kipling was closed on Nov. 1. Even closer to home, we’re having difficulties in Weyburn and surrounding communities.”
In Weyburn, all existing practices are full and none are taking on new patients, with one doctor retiring and another one leaving.
“We haven’t been in that predicament here for a long time,” said the CEO, noting even the closure of Arcola impacts on Weyburn, as now those patients are coming down to Weyburn for treatment.
Nursing, on the other hand, is not a pressing need right now.
“The nursing complement is pretty good in Weyburn and Estevan, although in smaller communities we have some vacancies. In Weyburn, the need is more along the line of specialties, such as needing a nurse with ICU experience. Recruitment is always a challenge; it moves from one profession to another,” said Cugnet.
Recently there was a provincial delegation on a recruiting trip to India, and Sun Country is waiting to hear if they might gain some physicians from that effort.
Cugnet noted some health regions went with the Health department representatives, but they were representing all the health regions in the province, as not all could send a delegate to India. There was initial interest from around 800 physicians; the delegation is planning to go back to India in July, and will check back with those physicians to see how many are serious about wanting to come to Saskatchewan to practice.
Asked if Sun Country will get any doctors from this recruitment drive, Cugnet responded, “I would hope so.”
She added that the College of Physicians and Surgeons has relaxed their restrictions on doctors from other countries, as up until now there were only about seven countries where doctors could apply from to come here. Meantime, Sun Country is processing applications from potential doctors, with the possibility of gaining four or five physicians soon.
Also with recruitment efforts, some communities (like Estevan) are assisting with efforts on their own to try and attract medical professionals, but Weyburn has not been involved in this way as yet.
“We’re looking at trying to establish a similar partnership with Weyburn, so we’ll be having discussions with council about that,” said Cugnet, noting there will be a meeting with city council in January, and this topic will be on the agenda.
“Historically, physicians used to recruit replacements themselves; they would usually recruit someone to come in and take over their practice, or help them in their practice, but it’s too difficult now. This partnership with the community to recruit would help a lot,” said Cugnet.
Other topics to discuss with the city will include potential site locations for the proposed new acute-care hospital for Weyburn, for which the Weyburn and District Hospital Foundation has been raising money for the last few years, and possible locations for a helipad for use by the STARS air ambulance service.
Looking at some of the accomplishments of the past year, Cugnet noted that the region is buying into the “Lean” system which basically seeks to bring more efficiency and reduce or eliminate wastage from the health care system.
Explaining that Lean is not an acronym, but a system that originated in the Toyota manufacturing plant and is now spreading through industry in general, Cugnet noted that in this system, workers actively sought more efficient ways of doing business without reducing productivity.
“This doesn’t mean cutting staff, but getting rid of waste,” she added, noting some Lean initiatives are being done in conjunction with the provincial Health department, such as group purchases of medications for example.
“It’s an opportunity for us to save some money that we can reinvest on the bed side of operations,” said the CEO.
Sun Country has also been involved with the provincial surgical initiative, which is reducing wait times for surgeries, and as a way to address this need are getting more specialists to come out to Weyburn to do minor surgeries, and take some of the pressure off the larger centres of Regina and Saskatoon.
As part of the surgical initiative, the goal is to offer patients dates for surgery with a wait time of less than six months.
As for specialists, those coming to Weyburn include three cardiologists, an eye-nose-throat specialist, a specialist in scopes, and a general surgeon, Dr. Sheik, who has also been doing surgeries in Estevan. The hope currently is to get a specialist in eye surgery. Dental surgeons, meanwhile, have been making good use of the OR in the Weyburn General Hospital; the challenge is to get dental surgeons here for young children.
“We’re looking to improve the number of pediatric patients who are waiting for surgery,” said the CEO.
In terms of capital projects, the new Radville health care centre is well underway, and the plans are to move into it by July of this year, while the facility in Redvers is 80 per cent complete, and the region should be moving in by February.
One health issue that Sun Country is wanting to get a better handle on is a high smoking rate among young people in their teens and 20s.
“We’re looking at how do we prevent heart disease in the future for these residents?” she said. “We’re also doing a lot of work on fall prevention and safety in the community.”
Cugnet also noted with increased activities in the last few years by the oil industry, the industry itself is doing very well in promoting safety in the workplace, but in the past year there have been a number of vehicle collisions involving oil workers, with injuries and deaths resulting.
“What safety program can we put in place to remedy the number of motor vehicle accidents that we’re having?” asked the CEO.