March 29, 2017 2:16 am

Victoria co-op health clinic struggles to make ends meet amid doctor shortage

WATCH: An innovative approach to health care in Victoria is on life support, because three of its doctors have cut their hours. Neetu Garcha explains why.

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A community-owned health co-operative in Victoria says its clinic is on life support amid a growing number of patients and a shortage of doctors.

The Victoria Health Co-operative operates the health centre at the James Bay Community Project. The non-profit offers access to naturopaths, which are not covered by MSP, annd community education on health and illness prevention.

There is also a specialist doctor on-hand whose expertise is working with elderly patients who have multiple complex conditions, according to co-op chair Vanessa Hammond.

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Hammond said there are six part-time physicians working at the clinic who charge the province through fee-for-service.

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The non-profit then collects a fixed percentage, 32.5 per cent, of doctors’ revenue through MSP.

That cut of the physicians’ MSP earnings is used to pay for overhead costs like rent and office staff wages.

However, Hammond said, three doctors have reduced their hours for personal reasons.

“Our costs are fixed.. rent, salaries, electronic medical records, and all of those important things … and our revenue is a percentage of what the doctor earns so if there are fewer doctors doing less in the way of billings to MSP… it means we have less revenue,” Hammon said.

Hammond said the co-op’s board members are so determined the keep the clinic open that they’re paying out of pocket to help cover the bills.

“Basically it’s been supported by the members of the co-op and its all people like me, it’s all people on Canada pension or on disability that are actually subsidizing this,” Hammond said.

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Hammond said about 500 people in the community have paid the $50 lifetime membership fee for the co-op and federal law prohibits the health centre, which served 7,300 patients, from asking patients to pay.

Most co-op models in B.C. consist of teams of doctors collaborating to work out of a singular space, according to Doctors of B.C. president Dr. Alan Ruddiman.

“There’s rising costs of overhead providing for your staff, renting your building, paying for your computer equipment all of these issues put pressure on the income that a practice has,” Ruddiman said.

Ruddiman said similar co-op health models are likely the way of the future as younger doctors are more reluctant to take on the entrepreneurial aspects of a practice.

“I think [doctors] do better working in collaborative teams,” Ruddiman said.

“We are working closely with the Ministry of Health in exploring other options for bringing teams of providers — including doctors, nurses, physio-therapists, mental health workers, social workers, nurse practitioners — all into one type of practice so that we can actually share the workload and responsibilities in providing care to patients.”

In the meantime, the Victoria health co-op has its eye on an out-of-province doctor seriously considering the new job, which would start in June.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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