The decision to halt full-time emergency services in Killarney could be just the tip of the iceberg for communities and hospitals situated along Highway 3 in western Manitoba.
Following the resignation of two doctors at the Tri-Lake Health Centre in Killarney, Prairie Mountain Health Authority CEO Penny Gilson said a decision was made to pool physician resources with Boissevain to ensure one on-call doctor -- who alternates between the two communities -- would be available at all times.
"It allows us to keep Killarney open rather than having to suspend services," Gilson said.
Typically, at one time or another in the past, communities such as Melita, Deloraine and Boissevain have shared on-call services depending on resources. Currently, Deloraine and Melita have enough doctors who are able to provide service without the aid of any neighbouring hospitals, freeing resources in the other direction.
The shuffling of resources has provided a temporary solution to a problem that could get worse before it gets better.
"Unfortunately, Melita is losing a physician at the end of July and Deloraine will lose a physician at the end of August," said Gilson. "So over the course of the summer, we will be taking a look at the resources we have available to create the best service model to ensure we provide as much service as close to home as possible.
"It's one of those things where sometimes when we get notices of vacancies we don't have sufficient time to get a replacement in place."
The potential loss of two doctors comes at a bad time as there is a dearth of sponsored recruits in the Prairie Mountain physician pipeline.
"We continue to sponsor international medical graduates through the provincial assessment process and right now we have three (doctors) who we are sponsoring who won't be practice-ready until about February of 2014," said Gilson. She remains optimistic the vacant positions will be filled quickly and said there has been success over the last number of years attracting Manitoba grads to rural settings.
The doctor shortage also raises the question of what role the government should play in recruiting foreign doctors, according to RM of Killarney-Turtle Mountain Coun. Gwen Tripp.
"The province has to let more immigrant doctors in, or if you go to school outside of Canada and you're from Canada let them practise here," Tripp said.
Tripp said Killarney has done well recruiting doctors from overseas.
"In order to have enough doctors we're going to have to recruit outside of Canada," Tripp said.
She's also worried about the timing of the loss of full-time emergency services.
As a community built around a lake, Killarney can often double in size in the summer, putting added pressure on the hospital. That, coupled with people taking part in recreation activities such as boating, means there's a higher incidence of accidents requiring emergency medical attention.
"I'm sure some of the campers are just presuming that we have emergency services all the time and might be unaware," said Tripp, who is also concerned some people may get confused and travel to the wrong hospital.
While the Prairie Mountain Health Authority has taken out advertisements in area newspapers to keep the public informed of the on-call schedule for both communities, Gilson said it is always best to phone 911 in any emergency situation.
-- Brandon Sun