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Fraser Health offers $500 bonuses for doctors to cover 'urgent' hospital shifts

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Hospitalist doctors in Fraser Health are being offered $500 bonuses to cover emergency department shifts at two hospitals with urgent need, a practice the health authority is defending as a “last resort.”

Emails obtained by CTV News outline dire physician shortages in Peace Arch and Mission Memorial hospitals this month and next with “urgent incentivized shift call out” emails sent repeatedly.

“Peace Arch Hospital Emergency Department is critically short this February and in need of Emergency Physicians to fill shift vacancies,” reads one email send on behalf of Fraser Health’s regional medical director earlier this month.

It offers “$500 incentive stipend OR $3,200 shift minimum” to cover an overnight shift a couple weeks ago, with most shifts seeing just the $500 “incentive stipend.”

In an email, Fraser Health insists “an incentive is only offered for critical-to-fill shifts and only after exhausting all other strategies” and that they plan to phase out bonuses as they stabilize staffing.

“This offer from FHA underlines the crisis being experienced in emergency departments around the province which reflects the real challenges for acute care in our hospitals,” said Doctors of BC president, Dr. Ahmer Karimuddin, in an emailed statement. “We look forward to working on meaningful long term solutions that start with a competitive service contract for ER physicians.”

Sources tell CTV News that the shift bonuses had previously only been offered to cover critical, difficult-to-fill shifts at Surrey Memorial Hospital, but that such incentives haven't been offered at that facility in a while. Last year, doctors at four hospitals spoke out about serious patient safety concerns due to extreme staff shortages leading to days-long waits for care.

When asked about the bonuses, the health minister said he’d have to look into the matter and touted recruitment efforts he described as wildly successful.

“The issue on doctors has been, this year, a dramatic increase in the number of doctors recruited to B.C.,” said Adrian Dix. “We have an agreement with the Doctors of BC that has proven to be excellent for patients and excellent for doctors.”

The new payment model compensating family doctors for time spent rather than the number of patients seen was implemented last year, and has been well received by many physicians. In fact, sources say it’s been so well-received that doctors who left family practice for the steady paycheque of hospital work have been lured back into private practice, leading to the hospital shortage. 

CTV News asked Fraser Health how many hospitals are now offering the desperation bonuses, but they did not answer that question. A query to Vancouver Coastal Health to see whether they were offering similar cash incentives also went unanswered.

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