Expanded team-based care bringing more doctors, nurses, improved health care for people in south Okanagan

Press Release

May 29, 2024

OLIVER – More health-care professionals are working in the Okanagan Valley, providing team-based health care to people as a result of the expanded primary care network (PCN) in south Okanagan-Similkameen.

“People in the B.C. Interior deserve high-quality health care, close to home,” said Premier David Eby. “Now is the time to strengthen public-health care by building more hospitals and hiring health-care workers, not making devastating cuts. An expanded south Okanagan primary care network means new family doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and more, delivering the care people deserve.”

People in the region are receiving team-based care from more than 36 full-time equivalent (FTE) health-care providers, including family physicians, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, Traditional Healers and allied health professionals, including social workers and mental-health clinicians, with more FTEs coming soon that have been approved and funded.

“We are putting people first by making significant investments into B.C.’s health-care workforce and system,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “With the hiring of dozens of health-care providers working directly in the south Okanagan, we are improving access to team-based care for more people, as well as connecting more people to a primary care provider.”

PCNs mean that members of the team consult with one another to support a patient with their health concerns. For example, when someone with diabetes talks to a family physician or nurse practitioner who is with the PCN about their health, they can be referred to a dietitian who can support them in learning how to manage their health. That dietitian may also consult with a social worker for counselling if a patient is struggling with their diagnosis. A senior with arthritis can get care from a primary care provider who may then refer them to a physiotherapist. Patients will not have to travel far from home for care.

The connection between providers is thanks to the PCN. This collaboration within the PCN team ensures holistic, appropriate and timely support is available without the patient needing to wait and travel a long distance to receive the specialized support of various disciplines.

“Both patients and practitioners see the enormous value in team-based care,” said Roly Russell, MLA for Boundary-Similkameen. “With the challenges we’ve seen across the country for people accessing primary care, government support for our primary care network is more important than ever. With the addition of more health-care professionals and expanding the PCN into more communities in south Okanagan-Similkameen, we are making progress to improve access to health-care services, now and in the future.”

As of May 2024, 22,558 people have been attached to a primary care provider through the South Okanagan Similkameen PCN overall. Those in need of a primary care provider can register to be attached through the Health Connect Registry.

Through the South Okanagan Similkameen PCN’s rural growth plan, team-based primary care was extended to Oliver, Osoyoos, Princeton and Keremeos, as well as the Upper Similkameen Indian Band, Lower Similkameen Indian Band and Osoyoos Indian Band.

The South Okanagan Similkameen PCN rural growth plan adds resources to strengthen services identified as high priority and meeting the specific health-care needs of people living in the south Okanagan-Similkameen region. These include:

  • improved access to care for those with mild to moderate mental-health conditions within the primary care setting;
  • better co-ordination of services for families and seniors who are frail, and people with complex health issues;
  • more comprehensive and co-ordinated health care; and
  • culturally safe care for Indigenous Peoples.

The PCN is a partnership between the Ministry of Health, Interior Health, South Okanagan Similkameen Division of Family Practice, Indigenous partners, patients and other local community partners.

The Ministry of Health added approximately $2.2 million to support the rural growth plan, for a total of $6.8 million in annual funding at full implementation for the operation of the South Okanagan Similkameen PCN. In addition, one-time funding of $3.4 million is also being provided, which includes change management and capital funding.

When the South Okanagan Similkameen PCN launched in May 2019, it was based in Summerland, Penticton, Penticton Indian Band and Okanagan Falls with a plan to bring more communities into the network over time.

The South Okanagan Similkameen PCN is part of B.C.’s plan to support health-care providers and increase patient access to primary care. There are currently 79 primary care networks, and work is underway to establish them in more communities throughout the province over the next two years.

These actions are part of B.C.’s Health Human Resources Strategy, which puts people first by ensuring they get the health services they need and are cared for by a healthy workforce, now and in the future. The strategy focuses on 70 key actions to recruit, train and retain health-care workers while redesigning the health-care system to foster workplace satisfaction and innovation.

Learn More:

To learn more about the Province’s primary health-care strategy, visit:
https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2018PREM0034-001010

To learn more information about the Health Connect Registry, visit:
https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-connect-registry

To learn the one-year update of B.C.’s Health Human Resources Strategy, visit:
https://news.gov.bc.ca/files/HealthHumanResourcesStrategyOneyearUpdate-December2023.pdf

Two backgrounders follow.

Contacts:

Jimmy Smith
Deputy Communications Director
Office of the Premier
jimmy.smith@gov.bc.ca

Ministry of Health
Communications
250 952-1887 (media line)


BACKGROUNDER 1

Facts about the south Okanagan-Similkameen PCN

Communities throughout the province are coming together to plan and create primary care networks (PCNs). PCNs are local community-based networks of family practitioners that plan and deliver the primary care needs of a community – in some ways this is similar to how school districts work together to plan and deliver education services.

PCNs can include family doctors, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, pharmacists, physiotherapists, social workers, midwives, mental-health professionals, First Nations and community providers and others, depending on the needs of the people who live there. These teams will include existing family doctor offices, nurse practitioners, services offered at health-authority facilities, community-health service organizations and more.

Each PCN will offer programs and services to help patients manage their health. Family doctors and nurse practitioners, working with a team of health professionals, will work together to address health and wellness concerns and help people achieve their health goals.

Each PCN designs programs and services to best meet local needs, which vary by community and region, while integrating into the broader health system to provide wraparound care.

Of the people in the south Okanagan-Similkameen region, approximately 9,000 patients are in the Health Connect Registry and have indicated they are looking for a family physician or nurse practitioner. Their needs will be addressed by the primary care network and associated strategies.

The initial approval for the south Okanagan-Similkameen PCN was for approximately 24.0 full-time equivalent (FTE) health-care providers dedicated to the PCN. Through the PCN Rural Growth Plan, the total approved FTE increased to 41.75.

As of April 1, 2024, 36.2 FTEs have been hired, which include:

  • 6.2 family physicians
  • 8.5 FTE nurse practitioners
  • 5.0 FTE registered nurses
  • 11.5 FTE allied health providers, including social workers, dietitians, community workers, mental-health and substance-use counsellors, and physiotherapists
  • 1.0 FTE clinical pharmacists
  • 2.0 FTE Traditional Healers
  • 2.0 non-clinical support staff

The establishment and expansion of primary care networks mean that many more patients:

  • who don’t have a regular primary care provider, such as a family doctor or nurse practitioner, will be able to get one;
  • will have an ongoing relationship with their primary care provider, which is important for their life-long health;
  • will get access to faster, more convenient care from their doctor or nurse practitioner and the care team;
  • will be provided and connected with a range of appropriate and accessible services and supports;
  • will be informed about all aspects of their care in community; and
  • will know where to go to get the care they need, even on evenings and weekends.

Contacts:

Jimmy Smith
Deputy Communications Director
Office of the Premier
jimmy.smith@gov.bc.ca

Ministry of Health
Communications
250 952-1887 (media line)


BACKGROUNDER 2

What people are saying about the south Okanagan-Similkameen PCN

Susan Brown, president and CEO, Interior Health –

“An expanded primary care network into the south Okanagan-Similkameen communities connects more people with the range of services and supports they need to access care early and stay healthy.”

Dr. Jennifer Begin, board chair, South Okanagan Similkameen (SOS) Division of Family Practice –

“As a doctor working in team-based care in Penticton, we value allied health and nursing support for our patients in our clinics. The South Okanagan-Similkameen region was one of the first to hire primary care network positions in B.C. back in 2019 and we are pleased that all of the SOS communities now benefit from these resources with the expansion into our rural communities. We encourage anyone still needing a doctor or nurse practitioner to sign up with the provincial Health Connect Registry and not to call clinics directly as that takes time away from patient care.”

Bernice Budz, CEO, Nurses and Nurse Practitioners of BC –

“The Association of the Nurses and Nurse Practitioners of BC is pleased that the knowledge, skills and expertise of the entire health-care team will improve access to health care for people in B.C. through the expansion of the primary care network. We believe that this approach will be pivotal in ensuring B.C. families feel connected to their health-care team and we are excited to see the growth of primary care networks in B.C.”

Martin Johansen, mayor of Oliver –

“Approval of the Rural Growth Plan and expansion of the primary care network for the south Okanagan-Similkameen is exciting news. More people getting access to health care closer to home is a priority and a much-appreciated investment in our rural communities.”

Celeste Keller, registered dietitian, south Okanagan-Similkameen primary care network –

“It is great to see how the allied health team works together with physicians and nurse practitioners to support patients in their clinic. It makes for a familiar and safe space for patients, and ensures people get care in a timely manner.”

Contacts:

Jimmy Smith
Deputy Communications Director
Office of the Premier
jimmy.smith@gov.bc.ca

Ministry of Health
Communications
250 952-1887 (media line)

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