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Departing doctor sparks replacement efforts

One of two health centre doctors is leaving for Smithers

The Northern Health Authority says efforts are underway replace one of the physicians at the Houston Health Centre who is moving to Smithers.

In a letter to patients underneath the Northern Health letterhead, Dr. Stefanie Steel, one of two physicians at the health centre, says she is leaving the health centre for personal reasons as of Feb. 16, 2024.

“I will be moving my practice to Smithers, but can only take a small number of patients with me. High needs patients will be prioritized,” she wrote.

Steel did add she will continue to hold a Houston-based women’s health clinic every two weeks.

Steel is based at the Houston Health Centre three days a week.

And she did provide information on how people can contact Northern Health in hopes of connecting with other physicians.

Northern Health official Eryn Collins said it is exploring ways to ensure continued health coverage in Houston, including recruiting a full-time replacement.

A widely-distributed recruitment ad on the part of Northern Health indicates a full-time physician on a fee-for-service payment plan can expect to make between $300,000 and $400,00 a year and not have any overhead expenses.

A financial benefits plan on the part of the provincial government could provide a $20,000 recruitment incentive and from $9,000 to $15,000 in moving expenses depending upon where a physician now lives.

A physician can also receive 26.74 per cent on top of standard fee charges and an annual payment of $40,580 to stay in the area.

The job description indicates a physician can also work ER shifts and provide obstetric services in Smithers.

As well as physicians, the Houston Health Centre employs two nurse practitioners. One works full time and the other three to four days a week.

In addition to Houston, Northern Health is looking for family physicians throughout the north, including Kitimat, Terrace, Quesnel, Fort St. John, Mackenzie, Fort St. James, Vanderhoof and Smithers.

Earnings depend upon a system whereby points are assigned based on a community’s size, its location, the distance to other medical services and number of other physicians either in that community or close by.

The more points assigned, the more a physician can expect to earn.