With one doctor at the Invermere Medical Clinic retiring, Dr. Gareth Mannheimer said the clinic is not currently “attaching” to any new patients. While those without a family doctor will stay that way for the time being, he said the clinic still offers around 15 appointments a day “to assist with orphaned patients who require acute care.”

Chisel Peak Medical Clinic isn’t adopting new patients either.

While there are nine family doctors working in Invermere, the East Kootenay Division of Family Practice doesn’t keep track of how many Invermere residents have family doctors. According to their general practices services committee, both the patient and the healthcare system benefit when an individual has a family doctor.

“Access to a family doctor leads to stronger, more accessible, primary care for British Columbians. Family physicians know their patient’s medical history and family history, can manage most healthcare issues, and can help navigate the healthcare system when necessary. Having a family doctor can result in better personal health and cost savings to the healthcare system,” the committee said in a response Interior Health collected for the Pioneer.

In contrast, the committee said not having a family doctor can result in more hospital stays for those with chronic conditions, more emergency-room visits and more expenses.

Deborah Austin, an area director for Interior Health, said anyone in need of medical care can go to the hospital if they can’t wait to see a doctor. Their other options are to visit their local pharmacist if they need an emergency prescription refill or to call HealthLink (by dialing 811) to speak with a nurse, dietitian or pharmacist at any time of the day or night.

“We never discourage people from coming to the (emergency department) if they feel they need to see a physician. This is something only the individual can decide,” she said. “We have a high number of patients who come to the Emergency because there is not a walk-in clinic. They need to see a doctor so this is their option if they don’t have a family physician or can’t get an appointment for a week or two.”

Because the hospital treats the sickest patients first, the wait for those who are not as ill could be up to five hours during an especially busy period, she said.

The Regional District of East Kootenay is directing $20,000 to the 2019 Columbia Valley Physician Recruitment Initiative to address the shortage of doctors in hopes others will also be able to attach to a family doctor of their own.