Oxbow town-hall updates resident on local healthcare

Two new doctors welcomed at Galloway Health Centre

December 8, 2023, 11:39 am
Ryan Kiedrowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

From left: Dr. Vijay Prabhu (Family Physician/Area Division Lead SE9), Tamara and Tara Brock present an update of events since the last town hall meeting in February, and Cannington MLA Daryl Harrison.

Concerned residents filled the gym at the Oxbow Memorial Hall on Nov. 20, anxious to hear the fate of local healthcare in their community. With frequent service disruptions in the emergency room and two doctors leaving town last year, many in attendance still had questions about what will happen to the Galloway Health Centre in Oxbow.

A similar meeting was held back in February in an attempt to assuage fears of the worst, and last week’s meeting was a progress report on what has transpired since that time.

“We are sure some of you are wondering what has happened since our last town hall, which was held on Feb. 21,” began Tamara Brock, reading from a status report. “You may be aware of some of the changes, but maybe not aware of all that has been happening since we last met.”

In an effort to keep public in the information loop, a Facebook page was established after the February town hall.

“We felt that there should be a centre of information to come with our responses from the town hall, as well as a place to post any further information that would be relevant to the public,” Brock said. “This is where you can find responses that we’ve received from the last town hall, the contact information for the various groups, disruptions, emergency services and other information.”

She also pointed to the combined efforts of the Galloway Health Centre and Oxbow Health Care Auxiliary, which resulted in the reopening of the family area in the multi-purpose side of the facility, plus the donation of a new recliner in the palliative care room “for a loved one to be more comfortable during their stay.”

Brock also shared that meetings between the Saskatchewan Health Authority, local municipalities, the Galloway Trust Committee and Southeast Healthcare Recruitment & Retention group have been positive.

“We have met three times now,” she explained. “And the communication between our groups has been open and respectful.”

Some big changes from those meetings included the reinstatement of Dr. Nic Botha, the inclusion of Oxbow in the Saskatchewan Rural and Remote Recruitment Incentive Program, and travelling nurses being added to the staff at the facility until levels improve.

“We are improving communication between SHA and our community,” Brock assured. “There is some positive progress and we are all working together towards the same goal.”

Sheena Grimes, Director of Primary Health Care SE9, was next at the podium to provide an update from SHA. Her first order of business was to share the positive news of two new doctors starting their practice in Oxbow.

“We are very fortunate that we have been able to fill the physician positions in Oxbow,” she said. “Dr. Kaur and Dr. Hussain have now started their practice. We are also continuing our Registered Nurse recruitment, we were awarded three permanent full time RN positions as a result of the Health Human Resources Program. This will enable us to ensure that we have two RNs scheduled for all night shifts going forward.”

Grimes explained that with the three permanent positions being posted, an internal shuffle occurred that saw some temporary positions ascending to full-time roles and ultimately leaving vacancies in the wake.

“What this means is that we are still recruiting,” she said. “We do have two contract nurses that are in place right now.”

Oxbow has been able to recruit one healthcare worker from outside Canada, whom Grimes explained should be ready in the New Year.

“One other success that we have had is as a result of the Philippines recruitment initiative, we’ve been able to secure one recruit from the Philippines, who will be starting their preceptorship in December and it should be ready to go by end of January,” she said. “Our goal, which I think is the same purpose that everyone in this room has, is to get our ER open 24/7. So we’re going to be working on staffing stabilization, continue to recruit registered nurses, work hard to retain the physicians that we do have in the community, and then we’re going to be working with some progression to 24/7 physician coverage.”

Grimes also spoke of the virtual physician program, which she stressed is an interim solution for physician shortages and not meant to replace a doctor.

“The virtual physician program really started as a way to help maintain emergency care in communities that were experiencing service disruptions with physicians,” she said. “It’s a way to make sure that the emergency rooms remain open and operational. The SHA started the virtual physician programming in Porcupine Plain in the beginning of July and then in Oxbow starting August 1. This initiative utilizes the 811 infrastructure that’s in place.”

Grimes walked through the process of the virtual physician visit, starting with when a patient presents to the emergency room. The on-duty nurse would triage the patient, then call the 811 HealthLine to connect with an ER-trained physician.

“The plan could either be treat and release, treat and transfer or treat and follow-up so that the follow-up would be an appointment with their family physician the next day,” Grimes said. “This is strictly a temporary measure and has been implemented to address those interim periods of no physician coverage and we are still dedicated to maintaining and recruiting and retaining the physicians that we have in the community.”

Another SHA representative—Erin Goodfellow, director of Workforce Planning and Employment Strategies—outlined some of the key points of the provincial Health Human Resources Action Plan and how it relates to the situation in Oxbow. She expanded on the Filipino healthcare worker recruitment plan, giving an update on some of the numbers to date.

“So far, there’s been 411 conditional offers extended to Philippine recruits, and 85 of those are already in a nine-month bridging program,” Goodfellow explained, adding that at the end of August, a 14-week bridging program began that saw 50 recruits actively involved. “So that’ll allow us to get the Filipino recruits to Saskatchewan and working a lot faster.”

Goodfellow also pointed to the successful recruitment of 710 new graduates retained in the province since Dec. 2022, plus the continued increase of rural and remote positions.

“So far, 210 positions have been hired to the 250 rural and remote positions that have been put in place by the government to stabilize staffing in rural and remote communities,” she said. “Oxbow also was part of that initiative where positions were used to be able to get your second RN on nights.”

At one point in the evening, Dr. Nazneen Hussain was acknowledged with her credentials read and a welcome to the community for her family. Dr. Jagjot Kaur was on shift while the meeting took place, but would have received the same warm welcome.

Community voices concerns
As the floor opened to a general question and answer session, some of those in attendance stressed the need for services and gave examples of their own recent interactions with the healthcare system in Oxbow.

One such voice was an emergency responder who told of an incident just the day before the town hall meeting.

“I don’t think people realize how dire condition we’re in,” they began. “I went on a call yesterday south of Carnduff. I did get permission to discuss this. That call was six miles from Carnduff’s base. From the timing of the phone [call] to 911 to when we had that guy on the STARS landing pad was 109 minutes. I don’t think the community understands: we’re in trouble.”

Others shared their frustration in the limited notice of the Nov. 20 meeting, that they were simply not made aware.

“At different times, I’ve said ‘how did you find out about these meetings?’ I was still told ‘on Facebook’,” said one lady. “Not everybody has Facebook, not everybody has a computer. You gotta maybe advertise more places than that. This is the first meeting that I knew was happening.”

Brock answered the question, acknowledging the limitations of effectively spreading word to the masses.

“We understand that Facebook isn’t the best option,” she said, adding that posters were placed around Oxbow. “But unfortunately, right now, that’s the only thing that we can come up with, where we can reach a lot of people. We are very open to any suggestions.”

Fran Paszkowski—a self proclaimed “frequent flyer” at the Galloway Health Centre—relayed her experiences in Oxbow as compared to other hospitals in Regina. Pleased with the care she received in Oxbow, Paszkowski noted “we’re so lucky to have this hospital.” She also raised the importance of the entire community rallying together to support it.

“We need everybody on board because we’re an aging community,” she said.

The meeting was unfortunately cut short due to a sudden power outage with the hall soon filled with points of light courtesy of cell phones, floating like lanterns as everyone navigated their way outside.

Cannington MLA Daryl Harrison was also part of the panel assembled to answer questions, made up of Goodfellow, Grimes, Dr. Vijay Prabhu (Family Physician/Area Division Lead SE9), and Prince Albert-Northcote MLA Alana Ross. He emphasized how the quest to find and keep doctors in a problem not just found in Oxbow.

“It’s an ongoing effort and we’ve certainly increased our training seats, recruiting hard and we’re offering some incentives to stay and work in the province—specifically in rural areas,” Harrison said. “It is certainly made nationwide, but it’s also across the U.S. as well.”

He pointed to neighbours south of the border in Bismarck, ND as also having issues with attracting RNs in their community.

“So they are in demand; it is certainly a good career path,” he concluded.