The conversation around improving access to local health care continued in Agassiz Tuesday night at Cheam Village, with a community forum between health care providers and the public.
Over the last several months, a program called A GP For Me has been communicating with doctors, nurse practitioners, medical office assistants and patients to pinpoint what’s working — and what’s not — in local health care. The Chilliwack Division of Family Practice is a big participant in the program, which covers Chilliwack, Agassiz, Harrison, Hope, Seabird and Boston Bar.
More than 400 people from Agassiz and Harrison filled out a recent survey regarding their health care, and those results were released at the Tuesday night forum.
They found that 7% of respondents are “unattached” to a family doctor in Agassiz and Harrison, which is about the average for the entire region. Of those who reported having a family doctor here, however, 25% of them report that their doctor is in Chilliwack. Several even make regular trips to Vancouver area family doctors.
Only 17% of those who answered the survey report having no chronic conditions, and 11% reported themselves to be in excellent health.
The top three chronic illnesses in Agassiz and Harrison, according to the survey, are high blood pressure (122), chronic pain (88), and depression or anxiety (62).
One of the major dissatisfactions with local patients is that some doctors are only in Agassiz for a two year term.
A GP For Me is aimed at providing consistency of care to patients, and a major part of that is ensuring that patients are linked up with a family doctor and doctors within his or her clinic. This can help reduce duplicate tests, misdiagnoses, and medication errors.
Robert Stam, a community resource nurse and co-chair of the Agassiz-Harrison Healthy Communities Committee, spoke at the forum about this area’s major concerns, and highlighted what has been done to improve the community’s health.
The suicide rate here is 9.7% locally, more than double the provincial average of 4%. The new Help Project is designed to link youth to online resources, through their mobile phones or computers.
Alcohol consumption is also well above average here. This community consumes 133L of alcohol per person, per year, which is 30L higher than the provincial average.
“With that comes a lot of other issues,” Stam underlined.
Also concerning to health care workers, the average rate of children in care in this area is 29.5 out of 1,000. The provincial average is 9.1 children in care. The numbers of children not in care but requiring it was also above average.
The local schools, Kent elementary and AESS, are both now considered inner schools where funding is concerned. A Breakfast for Learning program has been put in place and is well supported, and feeding a high number of students each day.
Stam noted that even some parents come in for their morning meal, to help make ends meet.
This is the last year for the Youth Inclusion Program, which has been offering one on one mentoring for youth with barriers. After five years, the government funding is ending. Nothing has been set up in its place.
Tuesday’s forum included break out sessions facilitated by local health care providers, including Dr. Wayne Phimister, who spoke briefly about the important relationships between patients and their doctors.
“Patients are partners in their own health care,” he said.
While wait times can be long, they are actively recruiting and working on retention. Since November 2013, the Chilliwack Division of Family Practice has recruited five physicians and one locum.
Currently, 75% of the local doctors provide in-patient care, which means if you end up in the hospital, they will visit you there regularly. Another 67% are teaching medical students and residents, as Chilliwack General is a doctor-run, teaching hospital. Almost all of the doctors, 95%, are now using electronic medical records.
Patients aren’t the only ones feeling the pain of too-few doctors locally. More than half of the family doctors surveyed said it was difficult or extremely difficult to coordinate coverage for holiday relief.
A GP for Me initiatives are taking place in communities around the province, through the Doctors of BC and Ministry of Health.
They advised anyone who is needing a family doctor to call the Chilliwack Primary Care Clinic at 604-702-2850.