GET IN LINE: How the North Kamloops walk-in closure could impact patients and clinics - InfoNews

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GET IN LINE: How the North Kamloops walk-in closure could impact patients and clinics

On an average morning, you can find upward of 20 people waiting in line to see a walk-in clinic doctor at the Summit Medical Clinic.
March 08, 2017 - 8:00 PM

KAMLOOPS - Evelyne Magowan and her family are feeling the pressure being placed on Kamloops residents during the city’s family doctor shortage – but now she fears this is turning into a crisis situation.

More than 3,200 people have watched a video posted to Facebook by Magowan’s daughter. In the video, Magowan calls on B.C. Premier Christy Clark and B.C. NDP leader John Horgan to directly address the Kamloops doctor shortage.

In the Feb. 28 video, Magowan and others are lined up outside the Summit Medical Clinic, waiting for a clipboard to be placed outside so they can try to clinch a spot for a doctor’s appointment that day.

But 53-year-old Magowan is not the one who needs medical attention – her elderly father is. It’s usually Magowan’s mother who lines up and waits for prescription refills, but ever since her mother became sick with pneumonia, Magowan has stepped into that role.

“So far the medical treatment has been just great, but it’s a nightmare when you’ve got to renew prescriptions for instance,” Magowan says. “In the summer, (my parents are) quite capable of going themselves.”

But on days when it’s close to double-digits below freezing, Magowan says her parents, along with other seniors, find it difficult to bare the cold long enough to write their names on a clipboard.

“I’m not really sure what the other seniors in town do,” she says. “The ones that don’t (have a family doctor)… it just sickens me that they have to go through what they have to just to be able to renew their prescriptions.”

Magowan and her family moved to Kamloops from Prince George nearly two years ago. She says they expected to have some difficulties finding a general practitioner, but they weren’t expecting these challenges.

“Some of the places we’ve lived in you have choices of which doctor you want,” she says. “We had heard there was a doctor shortage and we had heard we’re probably going to have to wait for a doctor, but… there’s people that have been waiting years for a doctor. We realize that’s something we’re probably never going to get, we’ll (probably) never… have a family doctor here.”

Credit: Alison Magowan

The B.C. Liberals have made several announcements in recent months regarding healthcare in Kamloops, with a provincial election now just weeks away. From a new patient care tower at the hospital to a new primary care facility on the city’s North Shore, there is no shortage of temporary solutions introduced by the provincial government, but it’s unclear if these new initiatives will make a dent in what Magowan and her daughter call a healthcare crisis in Kamloops.

For the North Shore’s lone walk-in clinic, it may be too little too late. The Norkam Health Centre’s walk-in clinic is due to close up shop within weeks.

Clinic manager Patti Aldrich told this week that the clinic will be closing primarily due to the opening of new primary care facilities. She said the walk in clinic, not yet four years old, was supposed to be a complementary facility to the health centre’s existing family care practices, but now patients have begun using it as a primary care facility.

“We’re not talking your basic walk-in clinic appointment patients,” she said. “We’re talking about patients with extremely fragile health, we’re talking about our elderly, we’re talking about our cancer survivors, we’re talking about people with chronic health diseases.”

But staff manager at Summit Medical Centre walk-in clinic, Heather Turner, says virtually every walk-in clinic in the city has had to act as a primary care facility during the city’s doctor shortage.

“We’re not different,” Turner says. “We need some help. What about some help for us?”

She says the Health Ministry should be offering help and resources to walk-in clinics which are committed to staying open and seeing patients. Compared to the 19,000 patients Norkam’s clinic has seen since its opening, Summit has seen 50,000. Lake recognizes the closure of the North Shore walk-in would put pressure on other facilities.

“It's going to put pressure on (other clinics) and on the ER,” Lake says. “With the opening of the primary care clinics, that will help a lot. Despite this situation, I think we’re turning the corner.”

Turner says in her 30 years working at the clinic, she has never seen this many people depending on it. The numbers aren’t clear on how many Kamloops residents are without a family doctor, but in 2014 the Thompson Region Division of Family Practice placed the number at roughly 15,000 people. Earlier this year, Kamloops-South Thompson NDP candidate Nancy Bepple placed the number closer to 30,000.

Turner said her walk-in clinic is usually full within a couple of hours of opening, but yesterday the clipboard was placed outside for no more than an hour before all of the appointment slots had been filled for the day.

Another key part in depleting resources, Turner says, is a lack of doctors working at the clinic. She says the Summit walk-in is usually open on weekends, but will be closed for every weekend in March because they don’t have a doctor available to work. She’s hopeful they will have some help in April so they can remain open on Saturdays and Sundays.

Turner says she sees many people using the walk-in as a replacement for a family doctor, taking in WCB claims, getting prescriptions refilled and getting medical clearance for driver’s licencing. Although front-line staff are over-worked and left to play a more crucial role than ever in the community, she’s glad she and her staff can help people.

“You feel like you’ve accomplished something at the end of the day,” she says.

Turner is worried about patients having no alternatives other than the emergency room or the walk-in clinic.

“Somebody’s going to fall through the cracks here.”

– READ MORE: North Kamloops's only walk-in clinic is closing –

Magowan breaks the issue down into a more understandable analogy.

“I couldn’t imagine if they took a little town that size with… 27,000 people and said ‘Ok, you guys all have to live here and by the way, you have no doctors.’ There would be a complete uproar,” she says. “I know everybody’s frustrated about it, I voiced my opinion and I know it’s probably not going to go anywhere, but at least you get it off your chest.”

She’s also concerned with the impact Norkam’s planned clinic closure will have on patients at the other walk-in clinic in the city. Once Norkam closes, there will be three walk-in clinics operating in all of Kamloops.

“Is it going to get to the stage where we’re going to have to camp out overnight just to get a doctor’s appointment?” Magowan says. “A walk-in clinic to me… is you walk in, you see the doctor, you walk out. You don’t stand there, wait, go in, make an appointment and then come back four hours later. I guess it’s because there is such a shortage of doctors, there’s so many people.”

Magowan says the key to solving the doctor shortage isn't adding more walk-in clinics, but recruiting more general practitioners to the city. She says this would also take the pressure off walk-in clinics acting as primary care facilitators. 

There are also different options residents can turn to which would even allow them to see a doctor in their own home. Medeo Virtual Care allows patients to see a doctor through their smart phone or computer.

Patients are able to discuss concerns, prescription refill options and lab testing with a doctor through the Medeo platform.

For more on the Kamloops doctor shortage, go here or here.

The Norkam Health Centre walk-in clinic is closing this spring.
The Norkam Health Centre walk-in clinic is closing this spring.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ashley Legassic or call 250-319-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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