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Doctor supply to improve soon

Weyburn's supply of doctors should be "in good shape" by 2014, members of the Rotary Club heard in a talk by Marga Cugnet, CEO of the Sun Country Health Region, on Thursday.

Weyburn's supply of doctors should be "in good shape" by 2014, members of the Rotary Club heard in a talk by Marga Cugnet, CEO of the Sun Country Health Region, on Thursday.

The CEO provided an update on the state of health care for Weyburn and area, including an explanation of the region-wide efforts to increase efficiencies and decrease costs with the use of the LEAN system of management.

Addressing the shortage of physicians in Weyburn, Cugnet noted when the issue came up in Estevan, she heard comments from Weyburn residents to the effect "that could never happen here".

"We've had such a stable group of physicians here, but things can change quickly," said Cugnet, noting the city is down to about seven physicians with a growing population.

Part of the problem, she explained, is that the number can decrease quickly, but it takes time and effort to recruit new doctors and get the numbers back up again.

"Recruitment for physicians doesn't happen overnight. Now the process is almost two years, by the time you get through immigration, go through assessment and so on," she said, noting there is a new physician due to start in the new medical clinic in mid-September.

In addition, four physicians have now started the assessment process with the College of Physicians and Surgeons, and two more are due to start this process also in January, so by 2014, "we should be in good shape again," she said, to applause from the Rotary Club members.

Sun Country is also in discussion for another gynecologist-obstetrician for Estevan, so there will be a second such position there and help stop the outflow of Sun Country residents to Regina for having babies.

Cugnet acknowledged that the shortage has been hard on some local residents, particularly seniors. "We've had a lot of patients left in the lurch," she said, noting it's not hard for someone like herself to drive to Midale to see a physician, but it's not so easy for a senior.

With the new primary health clinic, to be set up at MNP Place in downtown Weyburn, renovations were begin on Tuesday, and will take roughly six to eight weeks to be completed.

"We're really excited with our primary care team," said the CEO, pointing out it would include other health care professionals in addition to the physician, including a nurse practitioner, a diabetes team, a chronic obstruction specialist, a social worker, and other positions as well.

"We certainly are seeing a stabilizing of the situation in Weyburn," said Cugnet.

Asked by member Ray Hamm if there are long-range plans in regards to the number of long-term care beds in Sun Country, Cugnet replied that "Baby Boomers" have already begun entering the system, which will increase the demand for long-term care beds.

"We are considering that in our planning. There's always a push for more long-term care beds; people are entering long-term facilities much too soon but there are all sorts of factors," said Cugnet, adding many seniors are telling them they would prefer to stay in their own homes as long as possible.

Asked by Mal Barber about information around the dispensing of medications, and whether any difficulties arose out of that, Cugnet said there is a pharmacy information program that can give a nurse or a doctor information on what medications a person has taken if they have to go to emergency for whatever reason.

In addition, there is an e-health program that is coordinating information so no matter where one is in the province, or possibly even in Canada, the information is available, not only about medications, but lab reports or X-ray reports as well.

"That's the goal, to have lab reports available to practitioners in Weyburn, with the provincial X-ray system, we can send X-rays to Regina and someone like a radiologist can look at it and see how they're doing, without the need of someone having to get another X-ray. That's pretty exciting," said Cugnet.
In explaining what LEAN is all about, she noted it arose from a Patient First Review in 2009 where health regions found out what they were doing right, and where improvements needed to be made. Borrowing from the Toyota car-manufacturing company, where the LEAN system was developed to improve on efficiencies; while not making vehicles, she said the principles were applicable, where workers looked for where waste could be reduced without costing the health regions any more.

As an example, she said, health care workers worked to make sure their time was actually spent with a patient, and not wasted looking for their equipment in the hallway or in a storage room.

They also found that standards were different from one health region to another, which also led to wasting of time or resources, so the health regions are working together to try to come up with standards that are the same across the province.

The regions also want to look at reducing and eliminating mistakes made in treatment and medicating, noting across Canada, some 10,000 patients suffer consequences every year because of mistakes made in medications, "because of what we as a system do to them, and that I believe is under-reported."

The surgical initiative was also a part of this process, as it was found some patients were waiting from one up to two and a half years for surgery; over the years, it was reduced to 18 months, then to a year and has now been reduced further to six months as the average wait for surgery.

One of the ways health regions have been working together to achieve this province-wide, she said, is for regions like Sun Country to take visits by surgery specialists to do surgeries here and open up OR time in Regina hospitals.

There are two different Dr. Sheikhs doing general surgery, Dr. Fritz who provides ear, nose and throat surgeries, and three cardiologists who all visit Weyburn now, with talks ongoing with an orthopedic surgeon to do other types of surgery which can also free up space in Regina for the more serious surgeries.