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Island doctor asks for moratorium on high-density builds to ease physician shortage

“Walk-in clinics are at a breaking point … many of the Valley’s physicians are approaching retirement.”

A Comox Valley doctor is asking Comox council for a moratorium on high density and large residential builds until a Valley-wide plan is enacted to bring more family doctors to the area.

Dr. Jonathan Reggler told councillors at the April 20 meeting that 11,500 residents do not have a family physician, based on numbers collected by the Comox Valley Division of Family Practice.

The Valley’s population (74,000) is increasing by 1,200 people every year, and within the province, the median number of patients per physician is 1,228.

He said the Comox Valley is short nine physicians, and with growth, that will become 10 in 2023; the numbers don’t take into account retirement or doctors moving out of the Valley.

Within the past two months, he told council 2,500 Valley residents lost their family physician due to retirement and the death of family physician Dr. Brad Harris, who had 1,300 patients.

“Most are now medically on the streets - they are medically homeless,” he added. “Walk-in clinics are at a breaking point… many of the Valley’s physicians are approaching retirement.”

He explained all three municipal councils have a responsibility to the health and well-being of their respective citizens, and that they should not continue to approve high-density developments without having a credible, achievable, funded plan to recruit family physicians.

Reggler noted the Valley is in competition with hundreds of communities across B.C. and Canada that are doing a great job enticing physicians to work there rather than here.

“Municipalities have to understand having a pretty glacier, a ski hill, a coastline and a marina is not enough… it’s this council’s job to take care of the people of Comox and to work hard with the other municipalities to fix the problem.

“You can’t ask the fire department to put out a house fire if no one is stopping people from chucking Molotov cocktails or throwing logs into the flames.”

Reggler offered council a variety of options they could consider to entice doctors to come to the Valley including signing bonuses, student debt forgiveness, funding visits and turn-key clinics in new builds above a certain size. He added councils must stop new buildings from bringing thousands of new people to the Valley until the area’s medical services can look after them.

“It makes no sense; it’s nuts. And most of all, it’s irresponsible and reckless with this community’s health - something no council should be.”

Mayor Russ Arnott asked Reggler in response what he believes the answer should be, as he said collectively, the municipalities are trying to do the best they can.

“You’re putting a lot of pressure on this council to resolve an issue that has built up over the years… This council’s responsibility is to take care of the residents and to take care of the infrastructure, garbage, policing, land use. We are very mindful of the challenges that are going on.

We’re getting a lot of pressure to resolve things that are outside our ability to fix.”

Reggler noted the problem is complex, but told Arnott if the town doesn’t approve large builds, then people won’t move to the area in the numbers in which they are currently moving.

“Density is the way… density is what (the community) wants. Am I in favour of it? No. That’s what’s being pushed upon us to approve - that’s the challenges,” added Arnott.

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