Four additional doctors have agreed to join the Prairie Mountain Health region, alleviating some of the pressure from a system treading dangerously close to low staffing levels.
Killarney, Deloraine, Minnedosa and Swan River will all get one family physician in the upcoming months.
While the addition will still leave Killarney two doctors short of a full complement, Mayor Rick Pauls said the new doctor will go a long way to creating some stability in the community of 2,300.
"We’re really happy with the announcement," Pauls said. "The thing we are most happy about the new (international medical graduates) who are coming is that now they have to sign four-year commitments."
Past agreements with international physicians have typically been of the two-year variety. Often times after the agreement runs out doctors leave for urban centres.
"After four years in one place the hope is that whoever the doctor is that they set down some roots and want to stay even longer than that," Pauls said.
Adding a doctor in Killarney and Deloraine will affect the current emergency room carousel on Highway 3.
In Killarney, where the community is sharing emergency on-call with Boissevain and Deloraine, the hospital will again have free-standing 24-hour emergency room service once the new doctor is orientated and trained at Tri Lake Health Centre.
PMH CEO Penny Gilson confirmed Killarney will have stand-alone EMS while Boissevain and Deloraine will share services moving forward.
"Boissevain and Deloraine will revert back to their original shared on-call agreement and with three doctors in that scenario we should be able to provide consistent coverage," Gilson said.
Another doctor is expected to be added in the summer.
However with at least 18 communities — Birtle, Boissevain, Carberry, Deloraine, Hamiota, Killarney, Melita, Minnedosa, Neepawa, Rivers, Shoal Lake, Virden, McCreary, Roblin, Ste. Rose, Winnipegosis, Swan River and Grandview — still looking for family doctors and some of those hospitals looking for more than one, it was a challenge determining where the four new doctors would be placed.
"We had to determine where our top priorities for placements would be," Gilson said. "It’s a tough decision and what we try to look at is by placing the physicians are there areas where we could prevent suspension or disruption in service where we feel it is a critical area."
In Swan River, another physician was required to restore EMS to the community. Gilson said it was a priority due to the community’s remote location.
In Minnedosa, where EMS was forced to close recently on some weekends, Gilson said, "We need to ensure that there are physicians who can provide primary care to patients in that area."
The additional physician will also help alleviate some of the stress on doctors in the area who have argued they are overworked, being asked to cover EMS without enough resources.
Gilson said the health region is having the most success recruiting from the Middle East.
Many of the doctors who are coming were in Ontario, but couldn’t get a medical licence.
They will be granted a temporary licence to practise in Manitoba.
While the agreements are for four years, Gilson said there is nothing stopping the doctors from leaving at any time. At times in the past, physicians have left after being granted their full licence.
"It doesn’t bind them to Prairie Mountain Health," Gilson said. "It means if they leave early they owe us some money back. Most of the physicians will be on a conditional licence for a period of time, so until they become fully licenced they have to stay in PMH."
The doctor shortage is also expected to get more arduous, according to Gilson.
"We know that throughout 2014 we’re going to have some further resignations of physicians and we try to factor that in, but again we have to go where our current vacancies are and not play the ‘what ifs’ through this year," she said.