KAMLOOPS - Whether it's taking the bus or getting a ride from a friend, Candace Barnes has to go out of her way to get from her North Shore home to the Summit Medical Centre.
She's lived in Kamloops for 17 years after moving from Newfoundland, but she and her family have gone most of that time without a family doctor. There was a short stint a few years ago when Barnes did have a family doctor, but he ended up moving to the Summit Drive walk-in clinic to practice there.
"I come to see him at the walk-in," Barnes says. "I’ve been here 17 years... and I still haven’t been able to find a family doctor. I’ve been on waiting list after waiting list and I’m still waiting."
She says it's easier now that her kids are grown up, but one of her biggest concerns is taking time off work without the guarantee of seeing a doctor.
"It’s always like this," she says, pointing to the more than 20 other people waiting to see a doctor. "If you’re not here early enough you don’t get in. It’s a bit stressful and a bit depressing sometimes because you’re here to get help and the only other option is to go to the hospital.
"If you don’t get in, that’s a day (off of work) wasted that you can’t really afford."
The family doctor shortage in Kamloops has been a prominent issue for residents for years. In July, 2014, a doctor with the Thompson Region Division of Family practice estimated about 15,000 people in Kamloops were without a family doctor.
Now, two-and-a-half years later, a local politician says the number has double to about 30,000 people without a doctor.
One of those people is 18-year-old Chloe Ovington, whose family doctor moved to the Summit walk-in clinic four years ago. She has to wait in line with several others to see her doctor now.
“I have to get up at 6 a.m. and walk here almost once a month to get birth control and… doctor’s notes,” Ovington says. “It’s freezing cold right now. I’ve been here since quarter to eight.”
For people who don’t live in Kamloops, it may be hard to grasp how different walk-in clinics operate in the city. For Summit Medical Clinic, a list attached to a clipboard is put outside every morning, hours before the clinic opens. On Friday, Jan. 6, more than 25 names were on the list before the clinic opened at 9 a.m.
Another name on the list was Diane Forster, a 72-year-old woman who moved to Kamloops from Williams Lake three years ago and has had no luck finding a family doctor, even when she went through a period of illness.
“At that time I was so sick I phoned every doctor in the Kamloops directory,” Forster says. “Absolutely nothing, no chance. They won’t even put you on a waiting list.”
Instead, people like Forster and Ovington must show up to the walk-in clinic well before opening to get a good spot on the list. Even if you arrive early enough to have your name on the list, you’re not guaranteed to see a doctor quickly.
Barnes, Ovington and Forster make up just three faces behind the doctor shortage in Kamloops. Kamloops-South Thompson NDP candidate Nancy Bepple posted a picture of a line-up outside the Kamloops Urgent Care Clinic last week depicting a line of more than 30 people.
The photo has since been shared nearly 500 times since Bepple posted it on her Facebook page Jan. 3.
“Every single person spoke with me, people were more than happy to talk about the issues,” Bepple said in an interview.
Bepple said she wasn’t shocked when she saw the dozens of people in line; she’s been to the clinic before and expected it. She says she’s also driven past Norkam Health Centre on Tranquille Road and witnessed similar numbers.
She says she believes 30,000 people in Kamloops are without a family doctor and when she last looked at the number of job openings for general practitioners in Kamloops, there were plenty of gaps to fill.
“There were at least 25 openings in Kamloops at the time,” Bepple says. “There’s a large number of positions that need to be filled.”
Does this mean it’s too late for Kamloops? Has the hole already been dug too deep?
“No, I don’t think so,” Bepple says. “Prince George has family doctors that are accepting patients, Salmon Arm does, Vernon does, Nanaimo does, Abbotsford does, Victoria does. So there’s something that needs to change in Kamloops.
“Everybody pays into MSP, there should be some reasonable hope of being able to get a family doctor.”
Bepple says she’s disappointed with the way the B.C. Liberals have handled the family doctor shortage in Kamloops, saying they promised last election everyone in B.C. would have a family doctor.
“They walked away from that promise. They’ve given up on Kamloops in terms of having family doctors,” Bepple says.
She says Health Minister and local MLA Terry Lake’s plan to improve healthcare in Kamloops is a “drop in the bucket.” Lake announced a four-point plan last year to address the city’s doctor shortage.
The plan includes introducing more doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, two new health clinics and a global waiting list for family doctors.
The new health centres are expected to be completed in the first half of 2017, one in March and the other in April, Lake has said.
"The two clinics don’t even come close to meeting the needs of 30,000 people that don’t have a family doctor," Bepple says.
The 811 Healthlink waitlist has been active since Nov. 1, 2016 but by the end of that month, more than 4,000 people were already on the waitlist in Kamloops.
Bepple says if she clinched the MLA seat for Kamloops-South Thompson, the availability of family doctors would be a top priority for her.
“There’s just this feeling of helplessness,” she says. “When you lose your doctor in Kamloops, you have no way of knowing how to get a new doctor.”
Bepple says one misconception about family doctors she often hears, is that people with chronic illnesses or diseases automatically get assigned one.
"I’ve talked to people who have had cancer, who have kidney disease, who don’t have family doctors," she says. "Even people who have had very serious health issues don’t have a family doctor here in Kamloops."
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