An updated notice from the Northern Regional Health Authority (NRHA) has raised concerns in the community and lead to increased anxiety on social media.
The notice was posted on Thursday, Aug. 10 with the headline “No Physician in Snow Lake August 11, 2017–September 2, 2017.”
It read: “There will be no physician in the community of Snow Lake from August 11, 2017 - September 2, 2017. To support patient care, there will be a Physician Assistant, Kulraj Bhatti, who will be in Snow Lake until August 22, at which time there will be alternate coverage.”
In respect to that coverage, it will be provided by Jan Drutz who is a physician assistant from Alberta. He has worked at remote mining camps from 2009 to the present date, including emergency work. He has been a physician assistant since 1980.
“During this time there will be no booked appointments. If you feel you have a non-urgent health concern that needs attention, an appointment can be made for when Dr. [Eman] Yousif returns to the community. If you feel your concern needs attention prior to this time you can still attend the Health Centre and be assessed by the Physician Assistant on a first-come-first-serve basis.”
“The Emergency Department in Snow Lake will remain open with the Physician Assistant attending to the needs of patients with the support from the Flin Flon Emergency Department.”
The notice went on to outline the responsibilities of a physician assistant and ended with “We thank you for your patience and cooperation in this matter.”
A grammatical mistake in this last sentence caused the post to be removed and corrected before being issued again.
When contacted to provide some rational for the lapse in service, Twyla Storey, communications co-ordinator for the NRHA said “Unfortunately we have run into a situation where we are unable to provide physician services during Dr. Yousif’s absence. We have been able to secure a physician assistant who will be in the Snow Lake Hospital and be able to provide a variety of services including conducting patient interviews, performing physical exams, counselling, and performing numerous other duties. Physician assistants are highly trained medical professionals. The physician assistant will attend to the needs of the patients presenting with support from the Flin Flon General Hospital Emergency Department.”
Noting the short notice of the lapse in service, Ms. Storey was asked if the NRHA had just become aware of the situation.
“Physician coverage in smaller communities can be problematic and we are always looking for the most appropriate method of coverage,” she responded. “We work diligently to avoid temporary closures that can occur elsewhere in Manitoba. We are proud of our staff in working and coming together to have a physician assistant in the community. We know that the community of Snow Lake will be appropriately welcoming as they always are.”
Provincial MLA Tom Lindsey was contacted for his comments on the situation and he said that, as of noon on Tuesday, Aug. 15, he had received a half dozen calls and emails about the lack of a local doctor. “But I would suspect that there are a whole lot more people upset who just don’t know who to reach out to, or how to reach out,” said Lindsey. “It’s unacceptable in my opinion.”
Lindsey said he shared that view with NRHA CEO Helga Bryant, as well as with the VP of medical services for the region. He noted they were both of the opinion that a physician assistant was sufficient for Snow Lake during the time that Dr. Yousif was away.
Lindsey recalls that Bryant told him that this kind of lapse in service is a normal occurrence.
“I also phoned [Provincial Health] Minister Goertzen’s office and a gentleman named Rob Pankerst got back to me … they think this doctor’s assistant is just fine,” said Lindsey. “Again, in a hospital with doctor’s supervising what he’s doing, he might be. But when the doctor who is supervising him is 500 miles away in Winnipeg or 200 miles away in The Pas, well I think it is a different scenario all together.”
Lindsey also suggested to Pankerst that they move a doctor from one of Manitoba’s four other NRHAs and the minister’s assistant said he would look into that alternative.
“He phoned me back last night and told me it wasn’t possible,” said Lindsey.
Lindsey stated that the more people personally contact the government the better and anyone concerned about the current state of affairs should reach out to the minister’s office directly either by email (email@example.com) or phone (204-945-3731).
The provincial Minister of Health’s office was contacted for comment, but they have not replied at the time of this publication.