Interior Health CEO tours hospital

Dr. Robert Halpenny talks ICU construction, physician recruitment and retention

  • Sep. 11, 2014 3:00 p.m.

On time and on budget.

That’s the message from Interior Health Authority CEO Dr. Robert Halpenny regarding the East Kootenay Regional Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit expansion.

The $20 million dollar project won’t open until 2016, but Halpenny is encouraged by the progress.

“It’s nice to see the new site being built here,” said Halpenny. “It helps to actually see it. It helps to walk around the facilities and understand what the physical restraints are and constraints.

“…We’re on time, on budget. Again, that was one of the things many years ago, it was on our capital budget and we came and did our tour and you could see something on paper, but when you see it in real life, it sprang to life.

We’re really happy with where it’s going and I think the addition of the electrical update is just as important as well.”

Halpenny was in town on Wednesday for an annual tour of IH facilities, a chance to meet with local doctors, IH staff and community leaders to identify and tackle issues.

“We’ve centralized services so very often people have to come to our sites, but with that centralization has come a lot more stability and quality, so transportation is an issue we hear about frequently,” Halpenny said.

“The next thing we hear about is physician recruitment and retention and specifically in the very, very rural areas. I know this community went through a tough summer with some family physicians leaving—compare that to a community like Princeton, where at one time they had four doctors and are now down to one. So very often we will look at putting our priorities where the needs are the greatest for physician recruitment.

“It’s not only physician recruitment, it’s retention. Once we recruit someone, how do we make sure we keep them here, and that’s giving them working conditions that they look forward to and physical surroundings that are appropriate.”

Cranbrook hasn’t been insulated from the physician shortage, something Halpenny described as a national and international problem. There are roughly 33 family physicians in Cranbrook and the IHA is working hand-in-hand with local politicians to entice and keep more family doctors in the area, Halpenny added.

“We’re engaging the Divisions of Family Practice, IH is involved and the community is involved to participate in the recruitment. It’s important that we engage the community, because it’s really important when people [physicians] come to a community and spend some time, that they don’t just walk around a hospital.

“I think in the past, we didn’t pay enough attention to, if someone’s coming and they have a spouse, what’s that person going to do? If they have children, are there educational opportunities here, how do we put our best foot forward?”

Transportation and access to specialist services are a few other challenges that patients face in rural communities, however, technology is helping to solve some of those problems.

“In health, we either do things to people or we move information. The tele-health initiatives are really helping people stay in their homes or their community while getting the services that they wouldn’t have had access to in the past,” Halpenny said.