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City to work with groups on incentive program to attract doctors to Kamloops

RIH Foundation CEO Heidi Coleman said the doctor shortage has put pressure on other areas of the health-care system
family doctor

The City of Kamloops will explore an incentive program to attract and retain general practitioners in Kamloops.

On Tuesday (June 14), a delegation including the Royal Inland Hospital Foundation, the Thompson Region Division of Family Practice and STEPS Medical Clinic (which operates through a non-profit model) appeared before city council to discuss the family doctor shortage, ask the city to get involved and present ideas from other communities grappling with the same issue.

RIH Foundation CEO Heidi Coleman said the doctor shortage has put pressure on other areas of the health-care system. She said the hospital’s emergency room is being used as a walk-in clinic, adding that some specialists won’t come to Kamloops because they don’t want to leave their existing family doctor.

Thompson Regional Division of Family Practice executive director Tim Shoults furthermore explained doctors have expressed need for help with daycare availability, space for practice, housing and vacation coverage.

Although health care falls under provincial jurisdiction and is not typically a municipal issue, Coleman called the issue a “city problem” because family doctors operate similar to businesses. Through tax incentives and other programs, the city has supported the business community in the past, including a patio extension program to help the restaurant industry during the COVID-19 pandemic and a new revitalization tax exemption to encourage construction of new daycares.

Dino Bernardo is on the RIH Foundation board. He said other communities across Canada facing similar issues are providing incentives, such as tax incentives, office furnishings, education, relocation bonuses, complimentary housing and more.

Shoults recommended the city consult with the group to create a physician incentive program as part of the 2023 budget process, create a revitalization tax exemption for family practices and consider a permissive tax exemption for existing family practices.

“These costs need to be measured against the costs of doing nothing,” Shoults said.

Coun. Denis Walsh said he would be more comfortable if Interior Health had come to the table. The delegation in Tuesday’s council agenda listed Interior Health recruitment director Raimey Olthuis among anticipated attendees. However, no representative from Interior Health attended. City council has been openly critical of Interior Health and what it considers a lack of communication with the municipality.

Coleman said there are many reasons for the doctor shortage, but noted it is not only an Interior Health problem.

“Don’t just solely look to them,” she said. “It won’t get fixed.”

Coun. Arjun Singh said dollar figures attached to health care can be high, noting it is typically a provincial mandate. He queried whether the city could play a role in advocacy. Mayor Ken Christian said attracting family doctors could leave gaps in other communities. He pointed to small communities like Ashcroft or Barriere with only one doctor and said a regional approach is needed. Christian is chair of the Thompson Regional Hospital District, which includes Kamloops and other smaller regional communities.

Coun. Sadie Hunter said costs should not be a barrier to starting a conversation. She agreed that it makes sense to include the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, as well as the Kamloops Chamber of Commerce, to ensure the city is not competing with neighbours, pointing out that regional residents are coming to Kamloops for medical services.

Hunter made a motion to have city staff work with the stakeholder group, the TNRD and Kamloops Chamber of Commerce to explore an incentive program, which could include financial incentives, revitalization tax exemptions and/or permissive tax exemptions, and report back to council in September.

Coun. Dieter Dudy spoke in support of the motion.

“In my mind’s eye, this is something that we should be doing in terms of at least taking a look at it and seeing how would we go about doing this including all the stakeholders in this,” he said. “And frankly, it comes down to, what price do you put on having proper health care available for every individual in the community?”

Council passed Hunter’s motion by a vote of 7-1. Councillors Dudy, Hunter, Walsh, Singh, Dale Bass, Mike O’Reilly and Bill Sarai voted in favour, while Christian was opposed. Coun. Kathy Sinclair was absent.

Christian told KTW if tax incentives are provided to general practitioners, orthopaedic surgeons, neurosurgeons and others could come knocking. He reiterated health care is a regional and provincial responsibilities and expressed concern about other communities providing greater incentives.

“It’s a race to the bottom in terms of how much subsidy you start providing people,” Christian said. “We give $15,000 and Kelowna gives $20,000 and Penticton gives $25,000. Then, you know, what have you done, right? You’ve just created this sliding scale.”