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Whistler doctor sounds alarm on growing physician shortage

With only one full-service clinic remaining, Dr. Karin Kausky calls for more provincial support
Karin Kausky Whistler Medical
Dr. Karin Kausky.

A local doctor is sounding the alarm on Whistler’s physician shortage following the closure of Town Plaza Medical Clinic this month, and is lending her voice to a campaign calling for more British Columbians to have access to an ongoing relationship with a family doctor.

“The BC College of Family Physicians (BCCFP) recently released a report confirming that almost 1 million British Columbians are without a family doctor,” said Dr. Karin Kausky of the Whistler Medical Clinic, the only remaining full-service family practice in town, in a release. “As a family doctor, I care deeply about my own patients, and about all those in my community who don’t have access to a family doctor who knows them and can care for them over time.”

According to a February BCCFP poll, part of the wider provincial My Family Doctor Cares campaign, 40 per cent of British Columbians who have a family doctor are worried they will lose them to practice closure or retirement. Town Plaza officially closed May 1 after more than 25 years in operation. With the clinic’s Dr. Ian Tamplin and Dr. Janice Carr both at retirement age, the decision to shutter was delayed several years “because of our inability to get an interested physician,” Tamplin told Pique last month.

“In the Whistler area, and across the province, family medicine is in a state of crisis,” said Kausky, Whistler’s 2021 Citizen of the Year.

“Family doctors are leaving their practices and new doctors aren’t entering comprehensive family medicine … Without more support from the health-care system, things will only get worse. For everyone in our community to have access to the care they need and deserve, we need a plan that supports and invests in family doctors in our province.”

The BCCFP polling also found that two-thirds of British Columbians without a family doctor cited not being able to find a doctor as the reason, while 19 per cent indicated they don’t have a family physician because their former doctor closed their practice—an 100-per-cent increase from surveying done in 2019.

There are multiple factors driving Whistler’s doctor shortage, most of which are not exclusive to the resort. Recruiting GPs, particularly to a town with such a high cost of living and steep commercial rents, has long proved challenging. But along with the economic realities of operating in a tourist town, the pressure points on family practices have only worsened in recent years. This has led to calls, both locally and provincially, for a complete reimagining of a family practice model that essentially asks GPs to double as small business owners. 

“Traditional family practices are small businesses with all the expenses of overheads, staffing problems and management issues that any small business must endure,” explained Tamplin in last month’s interview. “Funding for the current fee-per-item model is completely inadequate. Government must address the funding issues if practices like ours are going to continue existing.” 

Family practices also have to contend with the growing administrative burden of managing things like medical records, bookings and billings, which often falls on physicians, pulling them away from patient care. Kausky noted family doctors spend more than 25 per cent of their time charting, completing forms, and managing referrals.

“We want to work with the BC Government to reduce administrative burdens and improve access to ensure everyone who wants a family doctor has that choice,” Kausky said. “We need to create the conditions to recruit and retain more family doctors in the practice of family medicine.”

Kausky also played a role in founding the Whistler 360 Health Collaborative, a non-profit working to develop a community-governed, collaborative primary care service in Whistler, “with the goal of improved patient outcomes, increased provider satisfaction, and increased capacity, by working with [the] local community,” the release went on.

Emerging out of Whistler’s Primary Care Task Force formed in 2019 to address the community’s health-care gaps, Whistler 360 in September unveiled its ambitious vision for a primary care centre that would dramatically transform health-care delivery in the resort. The centre is aimed at improving physician accessibility and offering a more holistic care model that would include general practitioners, nurse practitioners, and a range of other health-care professionals under one roof. 

Ideally, the centre would be co-located either inside the existing Whistler Health Care Centre (WHCC), a renovated one, or as a standalone facility close by, making use of existing lab and imaging services and easily accessible from the village. Vancouver Coastal Health has agreed to provide two rooms within the WHCC to begin the process of adding providers. 

Providers at the Whistler Medical Clinic have already taken a step to transition to the society, “so we will no longer be cost-sharing associates; we’ll be part of Whistler 360, and we’re trying to get a couple of other physicians on board,” Kausky told Pique last month.

The next step for Whistler 360 is achieving charitable status so it can fundraise in earnest, which would allow it to hire professional management that would then assist in hiring new physicians or nurse practitioners that would ideally be housed in the VCH-provided spaces at the WHCC. Although achieving charitable status can take time, the society is hopeful to add the new providers in the coming months. 

“The Whistler 360 model of collaborative and community-governed primary care proved incredibly successful in our response to COVID. With the support of local primary care providers—Ministry of Health, VCH, municipal  government, Sea to Sky Division of Family Practice, community volunteers, Whistler Community Services Society and other charitable organizations like Whistler Blackcomb Foundation and Whistler Health Care Foundation—we were able to significantly improve patients experience of COVID. Interestingly we also found that this collaboration improved provider satisfaction and increased our capacity. The collaborative is ready to scale up to meet our communities primary care needs.”

Anyone interested in supporting access to family care is encouraged to send a letter to their MLA via Scroll to the bottom of the homepage and input your postal code to be directed to your MLA. In the Sea to Sky, former Pemberton mayor Jordan Sturdy is the elected MLA, and he can be emailed directly at [email protected].