Merv La Brash and his wife Frances couldn’t be happier with Princeton’s health care services, especially with the increased specialist care that’s now available. For the past few years, Frances has been seeing a specialist that came to Princeton once or twice a year. Now, through a project designed to improve access to specialist care in Princeton, she can arrange to see her specialist more often without leaving Princeton.
In 1975, Merv and Frances made the decision to get away from their busy, crowded life in Langley and move to a small town. They chose Princeton area somewhat by chance. On their way to Penticton they stopped along the highway near the Sterling Creek Bridge to help a rancher put out a fire in his garage. After the fire was contained, the rancher told them about a piece of property that was for sale on Old Hedley Road which they ended up buying. Merv and Frances recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary and are now living in Vermilion Court.
Access to specialist care can be a concern for people like Merv and Frances who live in rural BC communities. Seniors who no longer drive are strongly affected because they often rely on family or friends for rides or spend a full day getting to and from Penticton on the HandiDart bus. Travel can be even more challenging if their appointment is in Kelowna.
The Princeton Health Care Steering Committee, which includes physicians, community and Interior Health representatives, was formed in September 2013 with the goal of supporting improved care in the region. The committee has been working with the South Okanagan Similkameen Division of Family Practice on a Princeton Access to Specialist Care project funded by the Shared Care Committee, a joint collaborative committee of the Doctors of BC and the Ministry of Health.
The goal of the project, which began last November, is to improve and sustain access to specialist care and to support Princeton physicians in providing optimal care. With appointments made by their family doctor, the first phase is providing local access to specialties in higher demand through outreach clinics where specialists see their patients at Princeton General Hospital. Specialty areas presently being covered include nephrology, respirology, rheumatology, cardiology, pediatrics, and psychiatry, with more specialty areas being explored.
Since January, there have been 14 specialist outreach clinics and 135 appointments in association with the project. Everyone surveyed has rated their overall satisfaction with the visit as excellent or good. For patients who have missed specialist appointments in the past because of transportation difficulties, the clinics provide much improved access. Numerous patients have stated their great appreciation for the clinics being held in Princeton.
Instrumental to the success of the program is the commitment of staff, in particular, the Princeton General Hospital Registration Clerk, Darla Biagioni. Darla’s organization of the clinics and support of the patients ensure the clinics run smoothly and patients feel comfortable. Because of her position, Biagioni has heard many positive comments about the program, including one person who told her that she was thinking of moving from Princeton to be closer to specialist services, but will now remain because of this program.
Dr. Brian Forzley, a Nephrologist who sits on the Project Advisory Committee, states: “It’s been refreshing to do these outreach clinics, to get to know the Princeton physicians better, and to try and help people that have a hard time getting to Penticton for appointments. It’s easy as a doctor to forget what people go through for a ‘routine’ visit when they are coming from out of town. I hope there’s more yet that we can accomplish with our existing resources to make our care even better for people living in Princeton.”
Dr. Ella Monro, Merv and Frances’ family physician, also serves on the committee overseeing the project. Dr. Monro says it’s a privilege to be involved in the project and finds the association with the visiting specialists to be professionally stimulating. In addition to taking care of patients, specialists provide professional development opportunities for local health care providers through lunch and learn sessions.
Merv La Brash sums it up for all involved, “This is a real blessing to have the specialists coming to Princeton and I hope the program will continue well into the future.”