Estevan and the surrounding area is facing a physician shortage. However, there may be some relief on the way.
"We're in discussions with five physicians," explained Greg Hoffart, Executive Director with the St. Joseph's Hospital. "Two of which have agreed to terms and signed with St. Joesph's Hospital. They're in a provincial assessment program right now. We don't expect them to arrive until early April. We have a third physician which we've recruited from the UK. That physician is doing a site visit in February. If all things pan out, he'd also be here in April. A little bit longer than we'd like but it's not just short term, we need a sustainable future as well."
He added that these doctors are planning to stay in Estevan for the long term and this is not just a stopgap measure.
"These are not locums that we're bringing in for a few weeks to help out. The ones we're recruiting are intended to be here for a longterm basis."
"Certainly the short term challenges remain. And that's why we're trying different things in our emergency room to help the public get access to a physician where they may not be able to on a regular basis."
"We've had a lot of colds and coughs in the emergency room but the root of the problem is that we're just short of doctors at the moment. We recognize that. We're doing everything we can humanly do to recruit some more physicians and we're going to have some challenges in the meantime."
The hospital recently announced that they will be staffing a physician in the emergency room from 8 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday for those who need to see a physician and can't get an appointment to see their family doctor.
"In addition to 24 hour emergency room coverage, we actually have an arrangement with the local physicians to have a physician full time in the emergency room. Typically our emergency room is staffed on an emergency on-call basis, as are all the other district hospitals. What we're doing is trying to guarantee that a physician will be in the hospital from Monday to Friday. There may be the odd exception when scheduling issues present themselves or if a physician gets called away or a trauma comes in, but we're doing everything we can with physicians and nurses."
As well, the nursing staff has also been increased as well as the registration staff to help access for the patients and provide support to the physician.
"There's an enormous amount of patients to see in a day. The registered nurses that we have in there are exceptional. They are doing everything they can to assist with the process and because of them, we can see a lot more patients in a day that we may be able to on a regular basis."
Hoffart noted that there isn't much talk on whether Estevan will get a permanent walk in clinic.
"We have the one walk in clinic at the No Frills grocery store. And a little bit of help is coming. They are going to extend their hours, not for this coming Saturday but the following one. They're going to open their clinic until one o'clock instead of 11:30. We're appreciative of that. Every little bit certainly helps us through this trying time."
"We are very appreciative of the concern of the community. We share their concern regarding the physician shortage. We completely understand the frustration. We're doing everything we can and we definitely appreciate their patience and tolerance as we work through this difficult time."