Printed on page A2 of the Victoria Times Colonist was an unusual newspaper ad: a plea for help from a Central Saanich senior.
“We need a doctor’s help to renew my 82-year-old husband’s prescriptions. We will agree to any reasonable fee,” the ad reads.
“Our wonderful family doctor retired at Christmas. No walk-in clinics seem to be available. Today even Telus Health MyCare had no Dr. virtual appointments available for months,” it continues.
The ad was posted by Janet Mort, an Order of British Columbia recipient who has a PhD in language and literacy and who has been lauded for work helping children overcome reading problems.
“It was my last resort. I’ve tried everything else I can think of. I’m an intelligent woman, and that was it. I hit the end of my rope last week,” Mort told Global News in an interview.
Mort’s husband of 51 years Michael is dealing with a variety of medical conditions, including recovery from recent brain surgery.
When their doctor retired more than six months ago, he renewed Michael’s prescriptions and recommended a few options including Telus’ telemedicine platform.
“Since then it’s just been a terrible, ongoing, frustrating issue, because I’ve seen Michael deteriorate, I have seen new symptoms come up that somebody should be looking at, and I feel responsible and have felt responsible for finding him the help he needs,” she said.
“He has about nine prescriptions, but they’re life-saving prescriptions.”
Mort said she’s tried everything she can think of, including phoning every walk-in clinic she can find in the Victoria area, working contacts with retired doctors, and even going to the hospital emergency room.
She said she’s been able to connect sporadically with a doctor who can handle her husband’s prescriptions, but has for the most part been turned away.
The last straw came when she tried to connect through the Telus platform recently and was told there were no doctors available.
“I didn’t sleep that night and I thought, what is it I can do to get somebody to help me?” she said through tears.
“So I decided on the display ad, and I called the Times Colonist,” she said, adding the paper gave her a significant break in the price of the $600 ad when it heard her story.
Jamie Braman, vice-president of communications, partnership and primary care strategy for the Island Health Authority, said officials were connecting directly with Mort.
“Our health authority is reaching out to the family today to learn more about the needs of the family and how the health authority and the system might be able to provide interim support while they continue to look for longitudinal care,” he said on Monday.
Brennan said people in need of prescriptions can contact the 811 health line, which is staffed by registered nurses and pharmacists, and said there were a number of walk-in clinics in the Victoria area that can provide same-day service.
Pressed on how these avenues had apparently failed Mort, he said the province was investing in walk-in clinics to stabilize them and working with the province’s doctors on longer-term solutions.
“In the immediate, what are we doing? It’s focusing working with divisions of family practice, with our patient partners, investing in what are primary care networks, and over 300 staff have been hired into those primary care networks in the greater Victoria region, in existing family practices, in new forms of care like community health centres, NP clinics and urgent and primary care centres,” he said.
“The challenge, which has been building for many years, is going to take time to work through.”
Global News requested comment from the Ministry of Health, but was referred to Island Health.
Nearly one million British Columbians are currently without a family physician, according to BC Family Doctors.
The concurrent pressure on walk-in clinics has been well documented, particularly in Southern Vancouver Island, which saw multiple clinics close in the last year.
Dr. Kevin Mcleod, an internal medicine specialist working on the North Shore, said Mort’s situation is far from unique.
“This poor woman and her husband, they’re falling through the cracks. But that’s a lot of people,” Mcleod told CKNW’s The Jill Bennett Show.
“Pharmacists can sometimes bring you the medications, but you also have to say, when you’re 82, are you on the right medications? Who is reevaluating that? Is the dose correct? It’s not as simple as just renewing something.”
Mcleod said there is no easy solution to the escalating problem the provincial government is facing.
The greater the strain on the system, the harder it is to retain doctors who are still on the job as stress builds and quality of life decreases, he said, likening the situation to a rowboat with progressively fewer rowers.
“We’re kind of at that point now, and it’s very hard to get more people back into the boat. It’s not, ‘Hey, we’ll give you more money, come back into the boat,'” he said.
For the Morts, interim help with prescriptions eases the immediate stress of keeping Michael healthy.
But the couple remain worried about the future — both for them, and others in their situation.
“Put one of your family, that you love, in my circumstances and watch them try, like I’ve tried for the last six months,” she said.
“And then ask yourself if it’s working well enough.”