Yorkton family worries after city left without pediatrician

Rachel Gregoire's daughter, Alice, has been through a lot in her first year of life. 

Alice has esophageal atresia, which means her esophagus hasn't developed properly. She was born unable to swallow and has digestive problems as a result. The one-year-old has endured multiple surgeries.

Now, the Gregoire family, who live in Yorkton, are facing another hurdle: spending extra time and money to see a pediatrician in Regina, about a two-hour drive from home. 

It's the only option they've had since the end of September when Yorkton's only pediatrician, Rikash Jokhan, left the city for a job in Kelowna, B.C. 

Gregoire said Jokhan's departure also meant there wouldn't be a physician to oversee the three pediatric beds at Yorkton Regional Health Centre. 

Rachel Gregoire/Submitted

Gregoire, whose daughter saw Jokhan on a regular basis, said after Jokhan told her he was leaving, she assumed the position would be filled. She's puzzled why a city of Yorkton's size — just over 16,000 people — wouldn't have access to a pediatrician.

"I remember thinking ... Yorkton's always had a pediatrician," Gregoire said. "Then the middle of September came and he said, 'I have to refer you to a Regina pediatrician.'" 

The next day she was told it would be over four months before she could get an appointment with the pediatrician in Regina.

Rachel Gregoire/Submitted

Although she was able to see the pediatrician much earlier than expected, she now has to spend more money and time travelling to Regina and back to Yorkton every two weeks for appointments. 

"It was very difficult at first," she said, adding she tries to be as flexible as possible.

The Gregoires aren't the only family affected by the loss of the city's pediatrician.

Rachel Gregoire said her family doctor told her Jokhan had nearly 200 patients in Yorkton and the surrounding area. She worries parents who don't have adequate transportation may not be able to get their children care in Regina or Saskatoon like she does. 

"If anything is wrong with your child, you are two hours away from a hospital," she said.

"We created our life here." - Rachel Gregoire 

Their doctor has recommended they move to a larger centre to be closer to care, but that's something they aren't keen on doing. 

"Easier said than done," she said. "We relocated here from Saskatoon. We [wanted] a smaller city ... housing is cheaper.

"We created our life here." 

In a statement sent to CBC News, the Saskatchewan Health Authority says the government has committed to funding the health authority to recruit up to three contract pediatricians for the city.

The statement goes on to say the SHA is also working to provide pediatric clinic coverage on a scheduled basis in the Yorkton area while it recruits permanent positions. That coverage is not yet in place. 

A spokesperson for the SHA said there is no timeline for when the work will be complete.

During a recent trip to Regina, Gregoire said she met a pediatrician who visits First Nation communities around Yorkton. He told her he would try to stop in Yorkton to see Alice if he had time. It's not clear if that pediatrician is the same one the SHA is looking to provide clinic coverage, as it can't give out the doctor's name.

In the meantime, Gregoire will continue making the trips with Alice to Regina.

She hopes the SHA will see the need for pediatric care in Yorkton.

"There's a lot of people who live here who ... would've assumed that their child would be totally fine if something happens and they present at [Yorkton's] hospital," she said. "That's not the case."