Feb. 16, 2021 Update: This article states that Eagle Creek Medical Clinic has over 1,000 spots available for new patients as part of its expansion. Current information on the clinic’s website says it is now only accepting applications for Greater Victoria patients who are not in long term care and are over the age of 70, medically frail or qualify for complex care. More details can be found here.
A joint effort between Island Health and View Royal’s Eagle Creek Medical Clinic will connect 5,000 people on the West Shore with family doctors and nurse practitioners over the next year.
In a phone interview with The Discourse, Jeanette McCart – a registered nurse and Eagle Creek Medical Clinic director – says the clinic expansion is filling a gap for West Shore residents. McCart says that a strong primary health-care network will allow people to access regular care in a timely way.
“Walk-in clinics also have become like a family doctor for many, many patients,” McCart says. “The whole idea of the primary care network is to attach patients so that they aren’t put in these situations where they have to spend half of their day waiting to see a physician.”
She adds, “It’s extremely important to make sure that patients are getting their health screening done: mammograms, pap smears, prostate exams, all of those things that sometimes people aren’t getting, because they don’t have a regular family doctor.”
Filling the gaps in Island health care
In order to combat the primary care physician shortage on the West Shore, Island Health has partnered with Eagle Creek Medical Clinic to expand its resources. The expansion would give more patients access to family doctors and nurse practitioners.
The clinic uses a patient application form that determines patient priority based on age and health condition. Priority patients – those who are older or who have more complex medical needs – are paired with primary physicians and those who are younger or have less complex needs are paired with a nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners are registered nurses with additional training, experience and qualifications. They are authorized to diagnose illnesses, prescribe medications and order and interpret tests.
McCart says although health care service expansions should be happening at a faster rate, she is pleased to see the progress already underway on the West Shore.
According to the clinic’s website, 3,600 applications were submitted as of January, 2021. The clinic’s goal is to attach a total of 5,000 patients to a primary care provider by the end of the year. The plan is to attach 2,000 patients who are over the age of 70, medically frail or in need of complex care to one of five family physicians. The 3,000 other patients will be attached to one of two new family physicians or one of two new nurse practitioners.
The primary care doctors and nurses are contract employees with Island Health, rather than charging a fee-for-service to the province, as is the case in most private clinics, McCart says. The Discourse reached out to Island Health to find out more about the partnership, but has not yet received a response.
McCart says there are still over 1,000 spots available for new patients at the clinic.
Those on the West Shore who want to apply for a family doctor or nurse practitioner can fill out the Eagle Creek Clinic patient application, found on their website. The clinic will call prospective patients for meet-and-greets between now and October, 2021.
A regional and national problem
A report from Statistics Canada says that in 2017, 15.3 per cent of Canadians reported they did not have a regular health care provider. The proportion of residents in B.C. without a regular health care provider was higher, sitting at 18.2 per cent. The other two provinces with higher proportions were Quebec (at 22.3 per cent) and Saskatchewan (at 19.4 per cent).
The Statistics Canada report also says Canadians without a regular health care professional were less likely to engage in preventative health measures like getting the flu shot or being regularly screened for cancer with procedures like mammograms.
In a 2020 letter to the BC Medical Journal, retired family physician Jonathan M. Winner of Parksville, B.C., writes that the doctor shortage “is because of gross incompetence at multiple levels of the medical profession and government.”
Winner writes that the province has not incentivised family practice work appropriately and that the country is not training enough doctors. “The government and the profession must work harder to find ways to provide every citizen access to a local family physician. It does not appear that this is happening now.”
Efforts to close the gap on the West Shore
In 2019, Island Health’s director of community health services for Sooke, Esquimalt and the West Shore told the Goldstream News Gazette it is estimated that about 30,000 people on the West Shore don’t have a family physician or primary care provider.
So far, there are four urgent primary care clinics in the Island Health region (with one more opening soon) as part of the B.C. Ministry of Health’s initiative to make more accessible, continuous health care for residents. One of those clinics is located on the West Shore.
The Westshore Urgent Primary Care Center located on the Langford/Colwood border aims to provide same-day primary care through a physician, nurse practitioner or registered nurse. According to Island Health, the care center also provides access to mental health and substance abuse clinicians by referral.
The Ministry’s website describes the clinics as a means “to provide a flexible resource to meet the urgent and primary health care need, primarily in large urban centres where a higher percentage of the population is unable to find or access a regular family doctor or nurse practitioner.”
Other primary care resources for the Western Communities
There are also other walk-in clinics and primary care family medical practices on the West Shore.
Admirals Medical Clinic, located in View Royal, is a primary care family medical practice with four primary care physicians. The clinic — like most family doctor practices — runs on an appointment-only basis and is currently at capacity with its number of patients. The Colwood Medical Treatment Centre doubles as a walk-in and family physician clinic but is not taking on any new patients either.
In 2019, the Goldstream News Gazette reported that due to a physician shortage, the Colwood Medical Treatment Centre had to close on Sundays. According to the centre’s website, the clinic remains closed on Sundays.
In Sooke, the West Coast Family Medical Clinic’s expansion opened in June, 2020. A news release from the provincial government says the expansion is a collaboration with local physicians, Island Health, the South Island Division of Family Practice, community organizations like the Sooke Region Community Health Initiative and residents. The new space receives annual incremental provincial funding of $1 million to support team-based care at the clinic. Island Health contributed approximately $600,000 in one-time capital funding to the clinic’s renovation.
The team at the West Coast Family Medical Clinic was expected to be fully staffed by January of this year with a total of 10 physicians, three registered nurses, one nurse practitioner, a social worker, a registered dietitian and 11 medical office assistants. The clinic anticipates being able to connect about 4,250 currently unattached patients to their primary care team and accommodate about 300 patient visits per day.