The Raymore Community Health and Social Centre, a small clinic in the heart of town, used to see patients from Raymore and the surrounding areas four days a week. Now it’s down to two.
There used to be a doctor there two days a week. Now, only one.
Clinic services were further impacted this summer when one of two nurse practitioners (NPs) retired.
“Right now the services we offer are probably about half of what we normally offer,” said Donna Colley, the clinic’s receptionist and administrator. “We don’t want to go backwards.
“We want to progress, or at least stay where we were. The community gets used to that and now they’re phoning Thursdays and Fridays and I have to say ‘Sorry, I don’t have a doctor today.’ ”
During the summer, over 60 patients were turned away when no one was available to see them
“Even today I’ve turned away two patients,” said medical office assistant Sharon Purdue.
The health centre serves approximately 300 patients every month, with wait times to see a doctor or NP ranging between one and five weeks. When patients can’t wait for an appointment to become available, their nearest options are in Wynyard, 63 kilometers northeast, or Regina, 112 kilometers south.
“I worry about the patients we have to turn away,” said Colley. “I do worry about that, when we have to turn away somebody with a sick little kid who usually comes and sees somebody here, but we just can’t get them in soon enough.
“You have to haul your child – you have to take a day off work, take your child out of school and off you go. Our people are driving for healthcare. They have to drive 45 minutes to an hour for healthcare, which doesn’t seem fair to those of us in the rural.”
Stephanie Orthner, who lives in Raymore with her young child, has experienced these clinic shortages first-hand.
“It takes about three weeks to get an appointment, and the wait time is a huge issue,” Orthner said. “If you have a sick kid, you pretty much have to go to the city.”
Health centre board chair Rita Morrow is afraid of losing another important service for the community.
“We have a lab service from Lestock that comes once a week, but their workers are getting older and one is about to retire,” Morrow said. “So we’re a little concerned about our lab services, which have been a big thing for our people in this community, especially for the seniors.”
If the lab service could no longer come to Raymore, many of the seniors living in the community, particularly those living in the local long-term care home, would have to be transported to a lab by ambulance.
“That’s a huge service for us,” Colley said. “We must put 15, 20 people through every time in an hour and a half. But we’re worried because one of the [lab workers] is ready to retire.
“Who are we going to get to come to Lestock to fill her position? It’s scary.”
The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) is aware of the nurse and doctor shortage and has been working to remedy the situation.
“There has been a temporary disruption to primary health services in Raymore and surrounding area,” said Lisa Thomson, media relations consultant for the SHA. “They are continuing to recruit for a physician as well as a nurse practitioner. We hope to have success to report about this soon.”
According to the SHA’s 2018-19 annual report, the health centre received $88,000 of funding that year, the lowest amount granted to any SHA affiliate. The highest-funded SHA affiliate, Sherbrooke Community Society Inc. in Saskatoon, received $25,029,000 in that same period.
The shortage of health professionals is not the only factor impacting access to care in Raymore. According to Colley, inconsistent coverage makes it difficult for patients to trust their healthcare provider.
“People are really shy about booking in with the doctor because they don’t know if they’ll see him next week or not,” Colley said. “The doctors that come don’t seem to be happy working in small-town, rural clinics.
“They want the city, and we seem to be just a stopover before they get to the city. They do good work while they’re here. They’re very good while they’re here. But they come thinking ‘Okay, I’ll put my time in in rural Saskatchewan until I can get to the city.’ ”
The doctor currently at the health centre is the fourth in three years.
“Some of them don’t even put their full time in,” added Purdue. “They buy out their contracts so that they can get back to the city.”
According to Morrow, these shortages and inconsistencies are representative of the problems faced by rural communities throughout the province.
“I don’t think we’re really unique compared to other communities,” Morrow said. “Everybody’s suffering.”