What does scheduling look like for our local physicians? Between covering shifts at both the Boundary Trails Health Centre (BTHC), as well as their respective clinics and urgent care departments, it can be quite the balancing act.
Terry Penner is the Executive Director at the C.W. Wiebe Medical Centre in Winkler. He explains Physicians who work at both the C.W. Wiebe Medical Clinic and the Menzies Medical Centre in Morden have a formal agreement with Southern Health-Santé Sud to provide service to BTHC.

"The understanding is that both of those groups of physicians have to provide service to the hospital, so have to guarantee emergency room coverage and all of the services that are at the hospital. And so all of the physicians are scheduled into all of those shifts at the hospital first, and then whatever is sort of leftover in each physician's time schedule is picked up at each clinic site. So depending on their availability, they then book clinic time at each location as well as urgent care or walk-in clinic type stuff too."

During the pandemic, the use of personal protective equipment was one of the measures implemented at the C.W. Wiebe Medical Centre (C.W.) to help reduce transmission. Penner says those practices are still in place today, and also have a role in the number of patients that make it through urgent care in a day.

"So a physician, when they see a new patient in urgent care, they are putting on a new gown, and a new face mask, and a new mouth mask, and all the personal protective equipment that's required. And all of those things, all of those extra added procedures, they take time. And when you have fewer physicians and they're doing more things at the same time, it just reduces the services and the number of patients that can be seen."

Penner noted, currently on average, with the number of physicians they have, the C.W. Wiebe Medical Centre is seeing between 35 and 40 patients a day at urgent care. In the past, that number was significantly higher, at around 70 patients a day.

With the anticipated loss of two family doctors this spring, the C.W. is looking at a loss of six physicians within a year. Although the clinic has gained a physician assistant and one family doctor in the last few months, Penner says they are still at a deficit for doctors. He adds having a shortage of physicians and being committed to maintaining service at Boundary Trails at the same time, only means the doctors' clinic time will be reduced, as well as urgent care service.

Despite having a shortage of doctors right now, Penner says the C.W. has fared quite well through the wave of illnesses so far this winter.

"When we look at the numbers, and we're talking, you know specifically about those respiratory type of issues that have come through the clinic. It certainly was increasing throughout the fall, and we have some statistics up until December. Generally what they're showing is that probably December was sort of the peak of all of those respiratory illnesses. And hopefully, we're seeing that taper off now in the new Year. But in terms of, you know, how is the clinic able to sort of deal with that? I think it has dealt with it quite well."

Penner noted the loss of some doctors doesn't help the situation, however, he said the staff and physicians at the clinic have done their best to continue to provide service, and they haven't had to make any significant adjustments.

Most days, Penner said the urgent care schedule is filled up early in the morning. He adds the best thing to do is to start calling as quickly as you can each day or book online.

"Also since COVID happened and because of the physician shortage, we had to reduce the number of physicians that were covering urgent care from three down to two." Penner says that's resulted in shorter urgent care hours and a reduction of services they're able to provide.