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HomeWorld NewsHealthVancouver man advertises $5K reward for help finding a family doctor

Vancouver man advertises $5K reward for help finding a family doctor

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This story is part of Situation Critical, a series from CBC British Columbia reporting on the barriers people in this province face in accessing timely and appropriate health care.

Gary Shuster’s belief in public health care is so strong that in 2008 he worked on Barack Obama’s election campaign, attracted by the future president’s promise of delivering a more equitable, Canadian-like system to the American people.

The Montreal-born, California-raised, dual citizen who now calls Vancouver home says Canada’s publicly funded model is superior to the for-profit health-care system in the United States, which caters to only those who can afford it. 

So, it was with conflicting emotions earlier this week that Shuster placed an ad in the Vancouver Sun newspaper, offering $5,000 to anyone who can help him find a family doctor.

“I think it’s terrible that I’m able to do that and others can’t. It’s unfair, and it’s not how the system was supposed to be built,” he said. 

Shuster has received two responses to his ad so far. Neither person is interested in collecting the $5,000 reward. (Vancouver Sun)

Critics will be quick to point out the cash bounty undermines the very system he claims to support. But as someone living with a rare metabolic disorder, Shuster said he had no other option.

“I have young kids, and if something were to happen to me, it would really be a disaster for them,” said the father of three. “As a responsible parent, I have to take steps to make sure that I stay healthy.”

The 55-year-old lives with CPT2 deficiency, a muscle-attacking disease which can be triggered by stress, anxiety and infection, leading to severe cramping, cognitive impairment and muscle weakness. 

As a precaution, Shuster carries around an information card describing the disease and treatment if he falls ill. 

Regular monitoring by a doctor familiar with CPT2 deficiency is important in controlling it, but earlier this month, Shuster’s family physician unexpectedly retired. Trying to find a replacement has been frustrating.

Shuster worked on the Obama presidential campaign in 2008 in support of the heath-care reforms the future president was proposing. (submitted by Gary Shuster)

“It’s nearly impossible,” he said. “There is for patients who are high risk, like myself, a system that Vancouver Coastal Health runs where they’ll help you find a doctor. But the wait times are around six months, and typically they don’t guarantee much,” he said.

A million British Columbians — almost a quarter of people in the province — are without a family doctor and, like Shuster, struggling to piece together health care. 

Last week, Health Minister Adrian Dix announced $118 million in stop-gap funding to support and stabilize family doctors while work continues on a new fee structure meant to retain and attract more doctors into family practice.

Doctors of B.C. president Ramneek Dosanjh said Shuster’s conundrum shows the real-world consequences of the crisis in health care. 

“Nobody should ever have to put an ad in the paper and [offer] money and payment in order to be taken into a family practice. This is truly sad,” she said.

Shuster takes the precaution of always carrying a card with vital information about his medical condition. (submitted by Gary Shuster)

“Every citizen, every British Columbian, every patient should have equal rights and access to universal health care.”

As a dual citizen, Shuster considered buying private U.S. health insurance and finding a doctor in Washington state. He can afford the estimated $20,000 per year price tag, he said, but decided against it, in part, because the travel is impractical. 

In a perfect world, he’ll be able to find the same level of care he did in 2017 when he first moved to Vancouver.

“It was efficient. I had a family doctor who could do everything that I needed done and keep me healthy. But it’s just started to come apart, and I don’t understand why the wheels are coming off the car,” he said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, two people had responded to his ad. Both said they were not interested in the $5,000 reward.

“I have a lead on a clinic in New Westminster that may work, which of course, is entirely not downtown,” said Shuster in a text. “But as they say, any port in a storm.”

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