Bonnyville residents may be facing longer wait times due to the continuing doctor shortage and recent news of doctors planning to leave Cold Lake and St. Paul.
Two family doctors and a general surgeon will be leaving St. Paul in the coming months. Two doctors will also be leaving Cold Lake while a third is unable to practice due to illness.
Dr. Guy Lamoureux, chief of staff at Bonnyville Hospital, said shortages in neighbouring communities would add stress to an already heavy workload. Bonnyville remains short three doctors despite efforts to bring new doctors to town.
“With the shortage here and the shortage in surrounding towns we expect that wait times may be extremely long,” he said. “We will do our very best as we always have.”
Lamoureux welcomed the recent arrival of doctor Willem Gouws from South Africa. Another physician is expected in summer, although another doctor from Bonnyville will be leaving for a year for specialized training.
He said so far Bonnyville has not experienced increases in patients, but asked for patience if wait times increase.
“We are fortunate in Bonnyville that the doctors pull fairly well together, so when we're a little short people with spare time try to help out the next guy as much as he or she could.”
He said local doctors have been working as much as 12 to 14 hours a day. “We've always had a pretty good team spirit about things, but still it does wear people down.”
Rural doctor shortages are continuing to affect delivery of health services. Lamoureux said the problem began 10 to 15 years ago.
“We knew we were going to be really short of physicians in the future. Canada's never produced as many doctors as we need.”
Spaces are opening in universities to train more doctors, but Lamoureux said most graduates do not end up in rural areas. He said guaranteeing a certain number of slots for rural students at medical schools could help solve the shortages because rural students are more likely to return to rural areas.
He said overseas doctors have helped rural doctor shortages but that Canada needs to train more physicians.
“We're entirely dependent on foreign physicians.” He said without doctors from South Africa health care would “virtually shut down.”
The town is funding a nurse practitioner while the MD of Bonnyville is providing money to help recruit health practitioners.