Specialist shortage affecting elective surgeries

East Kootenay Regional Hospital recruiting additional anesthetists

Recruiting medical specialists to the East Kootenay Regional Hospital has long been a challenge, however, staff had recently scrambled to deal with gaps in anesthetists coverage.

Dr. Lawrence Jewett, the Chief of Staff for the EKRH, noted that the retirement of an anesthesiologist last year, along with another on academic leave, recently created some challenges when existing staff took vacations.

“So we scrambled to find replacements,” said Dr. Jewett. “…We have short-term and a long-term plan. The short-term is to try and get as many locums (temporary staffing) so we can do our three operating room slates per day. With the numbers we have right now, we just can’t do that, so we’re falling behind in our elective surgery slates.”

Ideally, having six anesthetists available would be optimal, however, there are only three locally right now, says Dr. Jewett.

He sympathized with patients and said that timelines for elective surgeries are being pushed back by five or six months.

“There’s going to be delay on elective surgeries and people’s dates are going to be pushed forward and I think that’s really bad,” Dr. Jewett said. “It’s bad for their community and bad for people who are suffering. Obviously people on waiting lists need the surgery.

“…It’s going to take us five or six months to catch up to where we should be and I have real empathy for the patients who are being put through this.”

Medical specialist recruitment is not a new issue for rural areas of the province, but in the case ofanesthetists, there are shortages across Western Canada.

“We’re having problems in both BC and Alberta, there aren’t enough anesthetists,” he said. “In fact, Vancouver is short and they say they can take every new anesthetist that graduates from UBC for the next three years. Kamloops is four down, so it’s not a simple matter of just finding people.”