A legend steps back
There are now even bigger challenges facing the healthcare system in West Prince following the official retirement of Dr. Herb Dickieson. His departure leaves three physician vacancies in the region but the issue really goes well beyond that obvious problem.
Dr. Dickieson is among a shrinking breed of almost legendary country doctors who serve a huge patient list, work long hours and cover off holidays and weekends. An emergency call in the middle of the night or a knock on the porch door was usually answered by the call of duty.
So when a doctor like Dr. Dickieson retires, his departure leaves a major void, because it would really take two or three physicians to adequately replace him.
Health and Wellness Minister Robert Henderson, who represents the O’Leary area where Dr. Dickieson based his practice for almost 30 years, knows very well the impact his retirement creates. Last week’s announcement very likely didn’t come as a great surprise to the minister. Health P.E.I now must proceed very quickly to find a replacement to ensure that Dr. Dickieson’s large list of patients will have timely access to healthcare.
There will be a domino effect in West Prince. The Western Hospital will face additional challenges because more Islanders without a doctor in the O’Leary area must travel to Alberton. The hospital is already under pressure to provide emergency, inpatient, walk-in, ambulatory and palliative care services every day. Challenges will increase for the O’Leary Health Centre, which provides an important role in mental health treatment, clinical care, outpatient services and as a drug and alcohol rehab centre.
Dr. Dickieson’s interests extended beyond his medical practice. He represented the area for the NDP between 1996 and 2000 and also served as provincial party leader. He ran for the party in the 2015 federal election, responding to healthcare challenges presented by the former federal government. He was a frequent contributor to this newspaper with opinion articles or letters to discuss threats to healthcare.
Dr. Dickieson was quick to express his thanks to his patients, families, the West Prince community, colleagues and government for their help and understanding over the years. We would like to thank Dr. Dickieson for his service and dedication to province and community.
West Prince has a physician complement of 12. With Dr. Dickieson’s retirement, there are three vacancies in the region. Recruitment efforts were already underway to replace an emergency room physician at Western Hospital and another doctor whose position has been vacant for more than six months. Their move to Summerside demonstrates the added challenges of filling rural medical positions – today’s doctors prefer larger health centres to share the workload and who can blame them?
It’s doubtful we have heard or seen the last of the 63-year-old doctor. He has many years left to contribute to his province, perhaps politically or maybe in some other health role.
His are big shoes to fill. It is truly the end of an era. They certainly don’t make ’em like Dr. Herb anymore.