A request by the doctors of the Burns Lake Medical Clinic drew a lengthy discussion at the council table last week.
A letter, sent by Dr. George Magee, acting office manager at the Burns Lake Medical Clinic, requested help addressing the issue of housing for locum physicians in the Lakes District.
Magee requested assistance with financing the purchase of one or two, two bedroom apartments in Burns Lake, furnishing them and providing ongoing management through cleaning and insurance. The apartment would then be available to locums working in Burns Lake.
Magee states, “The parties that we have identified [for help] are all of the native bands who use the Lakes District Hospital, the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako, the Village of Burns Lake, the Northern Health Authority, Babine Forest Products, the Village of Granisle and the Burns Lake Medical Clinic.”
He said that if all parties signed on, the cost of purchasing the accommodation would be diluted. “In that spirit the Burns Lake Medical Clinic is willing to play a role.”
Magee said that a lack of adequate physician housing is proving to be a deterrent in the recruiting of locum physicians and that almost all of the locum physicians that have been recruited have indicated that they are not happy with the accommodations at the staff residence. “They would only consider continuing on a long term basis in Burns Lake if they had adequate housing, allowing them to have their wives accompany them. We are aware that other communities have taken steps to provide adequate housing, namely Masset, Fraser Lake and Fort St. James and we feel that steps should be taken very soon.”
He said to Lakes District News that locums do stay at the staff residence if they have to. “It is not their favourite place to stay. There is a major suite that is satisfactory for the short term, but when they bring their wives with them they want more privacy and more seclusion. It is not just in Burns Lake but in every community that visiting medical professionals have this requirement.”
Magee said they would rather bed and breakfast style accommodation or an apartment with one or two rooms.
Mayor Bernice Magee said that although the request is a new concept for Burns Lake, she said that a lack of physicians in the local area requires more creative solutions to accommodation problems.
She said that Burns Lake is in competition with other municipalities that are already offering locum physicians accommodation.
Councillor Luke Strimbold said he is prepared to support a motion, providing a dollar amount is not specified. He also said he did not want the wording of the motion to state that the issue would be included in the 2012 budget, but rather deferred to the 2012 budget for discussion.
Councillor Eileen Benedict said she thought council should be careful how any decision they make is relayed to the Burns Lake Medical Clinic. “It is a private business and the Lakes District Health Advisory Committee (who also received a copy of the letter) is concerned about tax payers assisting private business.”
Mayor Magee said it is not an issue as locums are part of a locum program and are not part of the Burns Lake Medical Clinic.
Councillor John Illes said he is also concerned about the issue of tax payers being asked to fund private business initiatives. He said as the request for assistance has come from the Burns Lake Medical Clinic, he feels it would be against the Community Charter for the village to provide support. “It would be a violation of the Community Charter because we would be assisting a private business and it is for this reason that I don’t want to support a motion,” he said.
Councillor Quentin Beach asked how other communities that are providing accommodation for locum physicians are getting around the Community Charter.
“Their clinics are owned by Northern Health, so they are not supporting a private business by assisting. Fraser Lake is a good example of this,” said Coun. Illes.
Councillor Benedict asked if a motion could be made, which excluded mention of the 2012 budget completely.
“This could imply that we are going to provide funding and they may expect there will be dollars,” she said.
A motion was then made and supported by council which reads, “That a letter be written to the Burns Lake Medical Clinic informing them that the Village of Burns Lake will be prepared to assist with facilitating accommodation for locum physicians in partnership with other community groups.”
The village has previously offered accommodation to visiting physicians through the Marilyn House.
The Seventh Avenue home was donated to the municipality by the late Dick Nourse in order to offer visiting physicians a place to stay. In the Lakes District News edition of Feb. 17, 2010 it was reported that the village subsequently sold the home for $58,400 citing increasing expenses associated with the upkeep of the home. Council also said that collecting rent from physicians was sometimes an issue.
Proceeds from the home were put towards the Lakes District Hospital replacement project and are held in trust by the Stuart Nechako Regional Hospital District.
Marie Hunter, Lakes District Hospital’s site manager said the staff residence, adjacent to the Lakes District Hospital is well used and she said she has received positive feedback from medical professionals that have stayed there.
She said the residence is open to all health professionals, including lab technicians, physiotherapists, dentists and medical students.
The residence has 16 dorm style rooms, a furnished common area with two big screen televisions, exercise equipment, a separate common area kitchen with individual pantry storage, two new refrigerators, a dishwasher and a separate laundry with a washer and dryer.
The residence also has its own off street parking lot.
Hunter said that the Northern Health operated residence was built around the same time as the hospital but it has had several upgrades since including new flooring, new windows and most recently a new boiler and furnace.
She credits the Burns Lake and District Health Care Auxiliary for furnishing much of the residence. Donations from local businesses and community members were also received.
She said a room at the residence is offered free of charge for two to three months relocation packages for medical professionals. She said during this time doctors planning to relocate to Burns Lake can look for their own home or apartment to rent.
For temporary medical professionals such as locums, there is a basic charge of $15 per night to stay at the residence, or for longer term the cost is $400 per month.
Medical students can stay free of charge. Hunter said Northern Health hopes that not charging medical students for their stay, they may be more willing to return to Burns Lake to work in the future.
There is also a three room suite available for doctors. The suite include a bedroom with double bed, a kitchenette, a living room space with a couch and dining room table and chairs. The doctor’s suite is available for $20 per night. Hunter said wives are welcome, but in the dorm style rooms it is not really practical.
She said the revenue earned from rent goes straight back into maintaining the residence.
“It is certainly out of the ordinary for this type of facility to be offered. It is costly to maintain, but it is well used and we get a lot of positive feedback,” Hunter added.