British Columbia announced on Tuesday that it has opened up an urgent and primary care centre in Vernon aimed at giving North Okanagan residents without a family doctor better access to health care and keeping non-emergency cases out of the emergency room.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said the goals of the centre are to provide urgent primary care for those who either don’t have a family physician or can’t get in to see them in a timely fashion and to connect patients with doctors or nurse practitioners to provide long-term care.
The centre is currently operating out of the Vernon Downtown Primary Care Clinic and is expected to move to a permanent location at 3105 28th Ave. in downtown Vernon next spring.
People will be able to access services seven days a week through both drop-in and scheduled appointments. The centre will be open on evenings and weekends to give patients more access to health care after hours.
The province hopes the expanded access to care will keep non-emergency cases out of the hospital.
Dix said more than a third of Vernon emergency room cases would currently be better handled in a primary care setting.
The centre will be staffed by a range of health care professionals including doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, social workers and mental health workers so patients won’t necessarily be seen by a doctor.
“What we are aiming to do is provide care through a team,” explained Roger Parsonage, Interior Health’s executive director of clinical operations for the area.
“People come in, they will be assessed and they will get the care from the person who is most appropriate to meet their needs.”
Vernon has struggled to keep its roster of walk-in clinics. Two have closed in the last few years, each blaming a lack of doctors.
The Gartree Medical Clinic shut its doors in March 2017. At the time, a staff member told Global News the clinic was closing because it was down to only one doctor and that the physician couldn’t keep operating the walk-in clinic alone.
In 2016, the Vernon Family Doctors Clinic also shut its doors for good, reportedly because there weren’t enough doctors to staff the facility. In that case, however, a new walk-in clinic opened to take its place.
Dix said Vernon’s challenges with walk-in clinics underline why it was a high priority for the province to open an urgent and primary care centre in Vernon.
He says he does not anticipate any problems with finding doctors and other professionals to staff the clinic.
The health minister suggested that having the clinic managed by Interior Health and the Shuswap North Okanagan Division of Family Practice instead of doctors themselves, which is the situation at private walk-in clinics, may help with recruitment.
“I think one of the exciting things we are doing is changing the circumstances of family practice doctors in British Columbia. Many resident doctors prefer alternate payments than fee-for-service. They’ve indicated that to us so that’s obviously a key part of our hiring of new doctors,” Dix said.
It’s a strategy that’s already been employed elsewhere in Interior Health. An urgent and primary care centre has been operating in Kamloops since last year, and another one is expected to open in Kelowna in December.
The provincially-funded project is expected to cost $3.5 million a year to run and see more than 130 patients each day.