The Village of Midway has offered no explanation for its recent decision not to renew the lease of the village’s only practicing doctor.
Dr. Jesse Thompson’s lease at the Midway Medical Clinic at 500 Haynes St. is set to expire on Feb. 25, 2022, according to Mayor Martin Fromme. Thompson currently operates the clinic, while the village owns the building itself.
Fromme, in an interview Tuesday, Dec. 6, said he and council decided against renewing Thompson’s lease during part of a council meeting that was closed to the public under Section 90 of the Community Charter. The charter “provides the statutory framework for all municipalities in B.C.,” according to the province’s website.
Section 90 lists specific instances where a municipal council can meet in-camera (i.e., behind closed doors). These instances cover three broad areas: to discuss a municipality’s ongoing legal action; any personnel matters and those pertaining to land purchases or sales. Fromme said Tuesday that council discussed Thompson’s lease in-camera “because the lease agreement was a legal document.”
The agenda for council’s regular meeting on Nov. 1 states that an in-camera discussion would address “labour relations,” which is covered by the charter.
Thompson is in private practice, according to a statement by the Interior Health Authority.
An open letter by Thompson began circulating on social media on Nov. 13, two days before council’s next regular meeting.
In his letter, Thompson regretted that he’d soon be leaving his practice at the medical clinic — not by choice, but because, “the Midway Village councillors have decided to refuse renewal of the clinic lease with me.”
The village responded three days later, when they published a signed letter by Fromme assuring residents there won’t be any gaps in access to medical services at the clinic.
Asked why village council hadn’t released the minutes from that conversation, Fromme said Tuesday, “Obviously, we would hope that that information will be released in what we would consider a timely manner.”
“We did not release this information (about Thompson’s lease). It was the doctor who released it and he released it in a context that was not a joint expression,” Fromme explained.
Fromme repeatedly said that council plans to keep medical services running at the clinic between Thompson’s departure and his replacement’s arrival. The mayor wouldn’t say if the village had found a doctor to take Thompson’s spot at the clinic. That information was also in-camera, he said.
Experienced doctors are hard to come by in small communities, according to Edward Staples, President of the BC Rural Health Network, a grassroots organization dedicated to “improving access to health care services for people living in rural and remote B.C.”
The province incentivizes doctors to practice in communities like Midway through a variety of programs, according to the Ministry of Health. Rural doctors don’t necessarily have to live in the communities where they practice, though the ministry said that was preferred.
Staples said in an interview Wednesday that urban centres tend to offer better working environments for medical practitioners than rural ones.
In effect, Staples said that the shortage of medical practitioners across small-town B.C. feeds itself. People in the health professions are far less likely to want to practice where they’re already thin on the ground.
“Once you reach a critical mass in a community and there’s a model of care that a medical team is comfortable with, then they stay,” he said.
Thompson did not respond to The Gazette’s requests for comment before this story was published online.