Two more B.C. communities are feeling the squeeze amid growing pressure on the province’s health-care system.
The only walk-in clinics in Vernon and Campbell River are both slated to close their doors later this month.
The closures could leave residents who don’t have a family doctor relying on the hospital emergency room for care — and even simple matters like prescriptions.
In Campbell River, the Quinsam Medical Group has eight doctors, but their time is split between another family practice and the walk-in, along with work in the local hospital, including surgeries.
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Quinsam group licenced practical nurse Barb Baldin said the walk-in clinic has reduced its hours, but the team is simply too stretched to keep the doors open.
“It’s just not feasible to run. We don’t have the staff to cover anymore, we’re short doctors as it is,” she said.
“Ideally it would be great if Island Health could start a walk-in clinic, but again you run into the doctor shortage there, nursing shortage, staff shortage. It doesn’t matter who’s running it, if you don’t have the people to run it you can’t run it.”
The impacts of the closure will be widely felt in the community, even by acting mayor Sean Smyth, who said he, too, uses the clinic.
“It will be a loss to us, my family and for a lot of the community,” he told Global News. “It’s unfortunate.”
Smyth said Campbell River has been doing everything it can to try and draw more health-care workers to the community, including having designated housing for medical workers and pulling $20,000 from the city’s contingency fund to help with tax incentives and recruitment efforts.
In Vernon, the Sterling Centre Clinic is also preparing to pull the plug later this month, due to a shortage of trained staff to support their doctors.
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Chris Simms, North Okanagan executive director of clinical health for Interior Health, said the province and the local division of family practice had been working to try and stave off the closure, including with the provision of stabilized patient funding, but to no avail.
“Individuals in the Vernon area and north Okanagan do have some options to find primary care,” he said.
“There’s always access through family doctors, family nurse practitioners, the Vernon urgent and primary care centre (UPCC) does accept appointments.”
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Health Minister Adrien Dix acknowledged the closures will be stressful for some in the communities.
He said the province continued to work at recruiting doctors to family practice, touting a net gain of 600 family physicians due to B.C.’s new doctor payment model unveiled last spring.
Dix said the province has also put significant funding into primary care networks in both communities, which partner a variety of health-care workers ranging from doctors to nurses to provide service.
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“One of the things we’ve started in both communities is primary care networks, which is investments in primary care that aren’t decide by me, but rather proposed by the community to meet needs, so we’re working closely with them to help address these situations,” he said.
But Dix acknowledged the loss of the walk-in facilities would be a problem for people who don’t currently have a family doctor.
“We’re going to have to look at other options for people,” he said.
“It obviously … causes anxiety when services that some people have counted on, who are not attached to a family doctor, go away.”
Back in Campbell River, Baldin said those patients will most likely find themselves queued up at the local emergency room.
“Unfortunately they will have to go to emerg, and that’s going to get bulked up, but there’s no other way to fix it,” she said.
“Emergency room staff is already strained, just like everywhere. We’re no different,” added Smyth.
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