Despite doctor shortage at Hay River health centre, patients still getting care says medical director

The health centre in Hay River, N.W.T., still doesn't have a full complement of doctors, but the interim medical director says no one is missing out on medical care. 

"There's a variety of ways that people can be seen, even with no booked appointments and no obvious walk-ins," said David Wilson who has filled the position for six months.  

During weeks when there are fewer staff at the walk-in and medical clinic, Wilson said patients can get care in the emergency department. The health centre also has a good relationship with the pharmacist, he added, which helps with refilling prescriptions.

"It's sometimes not as convenient because you have to come through [emergency] but people, they're always seen," he said.

"Care will always be available. We will always be open," added Erin Griffiths, CEO of the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority.

While the health centre has the budget for five doctors, there is currently only one full-time physician employed, along with a rotating group of locum doctors and nurse practitioners.

Wilson said there are usually three or four physicians working at the health centre but in rare cases that number can dip down to two. 

Emily Blake/CBC

"We're definitely challenged in recruitment for sure," Griffiths said. 

They are reaching out to doctors who have previously worked in Hay River, she said, and getting help from the territorial health authority with recruitment. 

"That's been a recent strategy for us and it's been successful."

Concerns with the shortage of doctors in Hay River reached a peak this summer when the local health authority announced the clinic could have reduced hours. 

R.J. Simpson, MLA for Hay River North, told CBC at the time residents were frustrated with having to explain their medical histories to different locum physicians.

But Griffiths said the health authority's model of rotating locums returning to Hay River on a regular basis has been successful. She also noted they've hired a nurse practitioner who works on a four week in, four week out rotation in Hay River, which has provided some consistency. 

Wilson, who is based in Vancouver but has been coming to Hay River as a locum doctor for 14 years, said attracting and keeping doctors is an issue all across Canada. He believes health care is shifting from a physician-based model to more of a team approach. 

Wilson did say one of the challenges in Hay River is there isn't access to the same medical resources as bigger centres, which makes some clinicians uncomfortable. But he has been talking to previous locums to make improvements.