Mayor unaware of summer surgeon shortage

Mayor Lori Ackerman.

Fort St. John’s mayor has entered herself into the fray over the city’s lack of a surgeon for six weeks this summer.

Mayor Lori Ackerman was “not aware” the city’s only surgeon, Dr. Francois Coetzer, is on a six-week holiday until Aug. 11, and only learned of the problem when news broke in the media on Thursday.

“We have a very good communication (with Northern Health) over… the recruitment of general practitioners to the community. So, I would have expected a call, and it didn’t happen,” Ackerman said.

‘I have a lot of people who are concerned, and rightly so. I’m concerned as well.”

The absence puts all general surgeries in the city on hold, with anyone requiring surgical services being sent to other hospitals in the region.

Northern Health says it was unsuccessful in recruiting a temporary surgeon to fill in for Coetzer’s absence, but that ophthalmology, orthopedic, gynecological, and dentistry surgeries will continue in the meantime.

Ackerman has been in touch with General Surgeons of British Columbia in a desperate effort to recruit anybody to the city, though she remains doubtful a doctor can be found on such short notice.

“Unfortunately their response back to me was ‘July? As in, this month?’ That’s what we’re up against,” Ackerman said.

Calls for comment have been made to Northern Health.

With both Site C and the Pacific NorthWest LNG project and its gas drilling activities on the city’s doorstep, Ackerman said she would have expected a better line of communication regarding Coetzer’s absence and the struggle to recruit a surgeon to cover his duties.

Ackerman wants to play a lead role in helping to recruit doctors of any stripe to the community, even though she admits the issue is largely outside of her influence because she ultimately doesn’t hold the purse strings nor the responsibility and decision making powers.

That’s the job of the province and health authorities, but Ackerman said she has no problem mixing municipal business with health business while travelling the province.

“We could have spent some time a few months ago really pouring the coals to finding a surgeon to come up,” she said.

“If I’m going down to Vancouver for other meetings… I can go over and have conversations with some of the general surgeons that are just finishing their residency at one of the major hospitals.

“Buy them a coffee or a tea, or a latte, and just say, ‘Look, we’d like you to come up for the summer. Come and check out our community.’ I think it’s one of the best months to be here if you’re new,” she said.

Ackerman says she meets with every new doctor and RCMP recruit that comes to town.

“They can go and work with the health authority or the RCMP detachment anywhere else. We’re trying to recruit them to the community,” she said.

“That’s why I think being involved on that level is absolutely imperative.”