When most people retire there's a celebration to mark a lifetime of achievements but in the case of Dr. Patrick McConkey's retirement there' s dread and fear for the future.
McConkey is an orthopaedic surgeon at Squamish General Hospital who specializes in knees. Many Sea to Sky residents who have suffered knee injuries have come to know McConkey well through the course of recovery.
He is scheduled to retire at the end of May. His retirement date was pushed back once but he is booked to take a trip to mark his retirement and he doesn't intend to change his travel plan. While he is committed to the trip he also noted that if he is needed when he gets back he is open to helping out.
While McConkey is getting ready for some rest and relaxation, people around him are worried about the implications of his pending retirement.
Dr. Bruce Mohr, president of the Whistler Health Care Centre medical staff, is one of the medical professionals concerned about McConkey's retirement.
"We have been extremely fortunate to have really rapid access to orthopaedic consultation in the form of Dr. McConkey," Mohr said in a recent interview about the future of orthopaedic surgery in the region.
McConkey is currently working in conjunction with Dr. Alexandra Brooks-Hill. Further complicating the orthopaedic situation, Brooks-Hill is on maternity leave and Dr. Sally Clark is covering her orthopaedic work.
Dr. John Maynard, Co-Senior Medical Director with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), said that whatever is done to replace McConkey's service has to fit within the larger context of what is happening in the health region.
From his office at Lions Gate Hospital, Maynard said decisions about how to replace McConkey haven't been finalized and a review is underway to help form the decision.
"The question is more than just replacing a current orthopaedic surgeon," said Marynard. "Dr. McConkey is a very well-respected, very experienced orthopaedic surgeon who really has specialized in a practice more in the area of knees than any other aspect of orthopaedic care at this time."
He said McConkey's retirement is being looked at as an opportunity to consider enhancing orthopaedic services in the Sea to Sky area, an area he noted where the population is very active and deals with large numbers of sports-related injures.
"One of the opportunities we are looking at is having some Sea to Sky orthopaedic services that would be more detailed to treat that patient population rather than just general orthopaedic services," said Maynard.
He said a business plan is being put together by a number of people in VCH. According to Maynard, the people working on the plan have been meeting regularly and hope to have the plan completed as soon as possible within a budget.
On his way out McConkey said if he is directly replaced a new surgeon is going to cost the health authority more money because he does a significant number of knee surgeries every year in a traditional and inexpensive manner. He said his costs compared to the costs to fund a new surgeon could be as high as an additional $150,000 a year.
"If we're increasing the budget, where does that money come from and what does that mean to services in other areas?" asked Maynard. "We're all quite committed to trying to support a reasonable vision for orthopaedic care in the Sea to Sky Corridor that will fit with the uniqueness of that corridor."