The executive director of the St. Jospeh’s Hospital said the local health-care situation is on much stronger ground after enduring some shaky periods over the last couple of years.
Greg Hoffort, who took over as director roughly six months ago, was the featured speaker at the Estevan Chamber of Commerce’s monthly luncheon last Wednesday at Allie’s Dining. He said the doctor shortage that plagued the area in 2011 is slowly becoming a thing of the past and local health-care personnel are now focusing on other matters of importance to the residents of Estevan and area.
Hoffort noted there are currently 11 physicans practising in Estevan which is getting close to a comfortable level. Of the 11, nine are general practitioners, one is a specialist in gynecology and obstetrics and one is a GP and anesthetist which was an important addition to the local medical roster.
“Since Vino Padaychee and Di Naidu’s departure from Estevan, we have been without the ability to provide emergency surgery and at-risk child births,” said Hoffort. “Though we could do our surgical slates by bringing in an anesthetist from Weyburn, you can’t plan for an emergency, of course.
“With one in town we are able to do that again and the staff rave about him; he’s an exceptional physician, so we are thrilled to have him. We are actually looking for another one just like him.” Hoffort said the local consortium recruited Dr. Medhi Horri from Ontario and will be looking to Ontario for another anesthetist as the current turmoil in that province’s medical system has led doctors to begin looking elsewhere.
In a significant departure from last year when Estevan was down to five doctors at one point, Hoffort said they are now giving thought to just how many doctors to bring to Estevan. He noted the government and Sun Country Health Region feel 13 is a good number for the city.
“We are happy to say that we think we have a suitable environment for the physicians; we don’t foresee a shortage here in the near future and we just simply can’t have that.”
To ensure the city and region don’t have to endure a similar shortage, Hoffort said they are working on establishing a family medical residency program at St. Joe’s. He said the program would bring four medical school graduates to Estevan to complete their residency under the supervision of local doctors.
Hoffort, Dr. Edward Tsoi and Mayor Gary St. Onge recently made a presentation to the College of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan and received “some pretty strong assurances” that a program would be created here in the next couple of years.
“It’s really a game changer,” said Hoffort. “It can’t happen soon enough for us. We would desperately like to bring it here by next year and get this program rolling. We are going to be doing all we can to try and expedite that and make it happen next year.
“We have a motivated physicians to do the supervision, a motivated hospital, motivated community representatives … we have the facilities and we think we are ready to go.”
Hoffort said there are many benefits to such a program. It would provide an obvious training ground for new doctors but also a teaching opportunity for the current physicians, something he said they are excited about.
“It’s something that will be a recruiting tool.”
The director also touched on equipment. He said the current focus of the hospital is a CAT scan service for Estevan, an item which has been on the local wish list for years. Hoffort said two hours to the nearest machine is too long and many doctors, when taking a look at Estevan, cannot believe the community does not already have one. They are currently lobbying “anyone that will listen” including the minister of health and hope to meet with Premier Brad Wall in the future.
“Estevan is the city farthest from a CAT scan; two hours is too far. Then you multiply that for the folks in Carnduff and Gainsborough. We can’t sit and wait, we have to move on it and we will be doing everything we can to make that happen.”
Hoffort also praised the work of the South East Community Health Committee for their work in recruiting doctors, providing a lobbying voice for the region and supplying funds to back up health-care initiatives through a levy.
The committee began as a partnership between the RM of Estevan and City of Estevan but has since grown to include the RMs of Cymri, Coalfields, Benson, Browning and Cambria.
“It’s pretty clear to see the great impact they have had on health care,” he said. “There has been progress on each of the impediments that we have identified. It’s been a great success.”