Residents of Fort St. John are sounding the alarm after a local walk-in clinic announced it will no longer be taking in patients who do not have a family doctor.
The walk-in clinic at the Fort St. John Medical Clinic will no longer be operating as of April 30.
“With the decreasing number of doctors in the community and the increase in numbers of patients without a family doctor it has become increasingly difficult for the doctors remaining to manage the large number of unattached patients as well as looking after their own practices,” says a note on the clinic’s website.
As the result, the doctors will be unable to provide medical services to patients who do not have a family doctor currently working in the clinic.
City mayor Lori Ackerman says the closure of the clinic was a surprise to her.
“We were working with the medical clinic and the physicians and we knew that this summer was going to be a pivotal period for these physicians, but we did not have this closure on our radar.”
Fort St. John resident Johanna Svee says she has a family physician, but is concerned about others who are not so lucky.
“It just seems appalling for everyone else in this community,” says Svee. “We have tons of people moving here and we are growing so fast, so I wonder what all the new residents are going to be doing.”
Erin Hutton is pregnant with her second child, and says she has lost two family doctors already. Her doctor is staying until June, and then closing her practice.
“For a town this size and the potential for accidents with oil and gas industry, and the highest birth rate in Canada, it is pretty concerning,” says Hutton.
Amanda Kachowski was born and raised in Fort St John. She is also pregnant with her second child, and is lucky to have a family physician.
“But there are so many women that I know who have moved up here from southern British Columbia who have no doctors, and are having to go to their birthing appointments, and have to go every month out of town, one to two hour travelling time, with kids packed with them, travelling these treacherous roads, just to go see a doctor.”
She says no one appears to be paying attention.
“My problem is our MP and MLA are trying to do the best they can, but nobody is listening to them. Vancouver does not seem to think that this is an epidemic, that this is a problem whatsoever,” says Kachowski.
Dr. Ronald Chapman, Vice President of Medicine with Northern Health, says there are things communities can do to attract and retain doctors.
“It is a combined package that makes it attractive for physicians to come to a community,” says Chapman. “The community has to look at what can be done from their side to create an environment that will make it attractive for physicians to come to their community.”
He says one of the biggest challenges they face when trying to retain medical professionals is housing and overhead costs.
Chapman says subsidized housing is something that should be looked into.
“The physicians are very honest with us. They say the business models, to sustain that with the escalating costs is difficult. They need help,” he says.
When it comes to the problem of the so-called “unattached patients” in Fort St. John, Northern Health is reviewing lessons learned from the 2008 doctor shortage in Prince George.
“Northern Health established an unattached patient clinic, which was a temporary measure in 2008,” says Chapman.
Physicians were only paid for the services they rendered and did not have to look after staff or property.
“That turned out to be such a success that eventually it was taken over by the Prince George division of family practice. They have successfully recruited physicians,” says Chapman.
He says a similar model may be needed in Fort St. John.
Mayor Lori Ackerman says the city recognizes that its job is to create community and to create experiences to be able to recruit and retain doctors.
“The reality is when there are incentive programs to move doctors to smaller communities, it is really stealing from Peter to pay Paul. We recognize that as we move forward in developing programs to recruit doctors here, they are going to leave another community to come here,” she says.
Ackerman says the inability to have international medical graduates come to the province of British Columbia is also adding to the problem.
“We are going to have to look beyond our borders to bring people in,” she says. “We do know that there are Canadians who have gone abroad to get their medical education. So the province is looking at creating a program that would be similar to residency that would allow these international medical grads to come to B.C., come home in a lot of cases, pick that residency, and get their accreditation here to work in the province.”