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How will newly announced funding help Sunshine Coast doctors?

After the Ministry of Health and Doctors of B.C. announced $118 million for family physicians, Coast Reporter asked what this means for doctors — and patients — on the Sunshine Coast.
Dr.Koopman Sechelt
Dr. Kevin Koopman of the Cowrie Medical Clinic welcomes the unexpected funding for family physicians.

The Ministry of Health and Doctors of B.C. have announced an injection of $118 million in short-term funding to help family doctors across the province keep their doors open to patients. 

Dr. Ramneek Dosanjh, the president of Doctors of B.C., told Coast Reporter the funding averages to about $27,000 per physician. She said the timing is critical “because of the panic and the alarm bells kind of ringing off from every community.”

Coast doctors raise the alarm

One of those alarm bells began ringing on Aug. 13, when 16 family physicians on the Sunshine Coast signed their names to a letter calling on the province for more funding and space for their family practices. The funding announcement on Aug. 24 came less than two weeks later. 

Dosanjh said she read the Aug. 13 letter from 16 Sunshine Coast doctors. 

“I share their concerns, because honestly, it is such a hard time right now for many physicians on the ground. But particularly in Sechelt, we know that what it's reflecting is what we're seeing across the province, and it's really sad and disheartening,” she said. “It is the overhead costs that drive you out… Now, we’re finally seeing this kind of funding...acknowledge the kind of hardship that our physicians are having.” 

In an interview with Coast Reporter earlier this month, Dr. Kevin Koopman of the Cowrie Medical Clinic in Sechelt, and one of the 16 physicians named in the Aug.13 letter, said overhead costs range from 20 to 40 per cent of their billings, and come out of physicians’ personal income.

On Aug. 25, Koopman said the funding announcement was “definitely unexpected, but graciously welcomed with open arms.” 

“I commend the Ministry of Health and Doctors of B.C. for working together to establish that,” he said. 

Funding to benefit more than 70 per cent of B.C. family doctors: estimates

The funding announcement includes $75 million from the Ministry of Health and $43 million from the General Practices Services Committee (co-chaired by the ministry and Doctors of B.C.). Family doctors providing longitudinal family medicine and who are responsible for paying business costs from their compensation, and clinics providing primary care whose physicians are responsible for business costs, will be eligible for the grants. A clinic can apply on behalf of all the physicians working there.

The Ministry of Health estimates the funding will benefit 3,480 full-service family doctors and 1,100 clinics — more than 70 per cent of family doctors working in the province. The ministry encourages any full-service family physicians and clinics to apply and direct questions to Doctors of B.C.

The funding will be available from Oct. 1 to until the end of January 2023, and applications open in September. During that time, a new payment model will be negotiated to address the rising costs of business.

New payment model

Dosanjh says the goal of the new payment model is to encourage new doctors to join family practice and incentivize doctors to return, by ensuring they can meet their operating costs while recognizing extra time spent with complex care patients and doing administrative work. Doctors will be “compensated for their time and valued for all the work they're doing on behalf of their patients,” she said. She noted that while the recent funding is for family physicians, the new pay structure will include all physicians. 

When asked how this funding will affect patients, Dosanjh said she looks at it as a harm reduction measure. By providing stabilization funding as an interim measure, it will prevent clinics from closing, and people with family doctors are less likely to lose their family doctor.

4,000-5,000 Coast residents without doctor

The funding will help patients who already have family physicians, but an estimated one million residents of British Columbia — approximately 20 per cent of the population — are not attached to a family doctor, Dosanjh says. “That’s unacceptable,” she added. On the lower Sunshine Coast, Koopman estimated between 4,000 and 5,000 residents do not have access to a family doctor.

When asked what kind of effect the short-term funding could have for family physicians and practices on the Coast, Koopman said every clinic is different in terms of needs. He said the funding could be used to provide relief on monthly overhead expenses, renovating existing spaces to make better use of them, and help the practices continue to serve their patients while they wait for the new payment structure to come out in several months. 

As for whether the Cowrie Medical Clinic will apply for the available funding, Koopman said, “Absolutely.”