Fort St. John gets new walk-in clinic

Concerned Citizens, politicians said it's the result of many months of work

After two and a half months without one, a new walk-in clinic has opened its doors to the community in an effort to streamline delivery of healthcare to Fort St. John residents. The clinic will be open 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. from Monday to Friday.

The facility, run out of the Fort St. John Medical Clinic, came about from collaboration between Northern Health, the North Peace Division of Family Practice, government officials, industry and Concerned Citizens for Health Care. They have been meeting on a weekly basis to arrive at solutions to the ongoing medical staffing crisis.

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Peace River North MLA Pat Pimm, who has been chairing the short-term solutions committee, made the announcement in December that the clinic would be opening Jan. 15.

“It’s no secret that our community has lost a lot of capacity to see patients in an office setting, and that’s probably where we’re the furthest behind in terms of providing necessary services,” said Dr. Watt, who took the first shift at the clinic on Thursday morning. By around 9:45 he had already seen three patients.

Before the walk-in clinic opened, the only in-town options for care to those without a family doctor were the unattached patient clinic or the emergency room. The emergency room is an inefficient use of time and resources for treating smaller, more easily treatable ailments, however. Not only that, but patients with chronic conditions are more likely to fall through the cracks.

Ideally, chronic patients would go to the unattached patient clinic, but capacity there is limited, with only one doctor and one nurse practitioner currently in place. The walk-in clinic will alleviate the pressure on both the unattached patient clinic and the emergency room.

Patti MacEwan, North Peace Health Service Administrator, used the example of someone who wakes up one morning with a sore throat. They can now pay a visit to the walk-in clinic to have it looked at, rather than waiting up to six hours in the emergency room. During that visit, the patient might realize they have not had a diabetes check, and a referral is made to the unattached patient clinic for treatment.

“So my sore throat is taken care of, but also my chronic conditions,” explained MacEwan.

Sherry Sawka, North Peace Community Services Manager for Northern Health, cautioned that the hours of the walk-in clinic are still dependent on physician availability. “There may be days where there is no physician, we will have signage posted if that does occur,” she said.

The clinic is a partnership between several community groups. Northern Health is providing the space that they lease within the Fort St. John Medical Clinic. Doctors and nurses have agreed to alter their schedules to staff the 3-hour shift. Local citizens and industry donated the $20,000 required for upgrades to the space.

“I think the community has certainly put pressure on government power, probably primarily through Pat Pimm, to say that we have nowhere to go, this is not acceptable, and I would be sympathetic with them. It’s not acceptable,” said Watt.

According to Terry Isenbecker, a member of Concerned Citizens for Health Care, a grassroots organization that has sprung up in response to the staffing crisis, this is a good start.

“People were cooperating [in the weekly meetings], it was good. It showed that the short-term health care committee can make progress,” said Isenbecker, who said he has attended all the meetings. He went on to explain that the original priority of the committee was recruitment and retention of medical staff. That was bumped down on the list when ABC announced it would not be accepting walk-in patients at the beginning of November.

“It’s a good notch in our belt, but we’ve still got a long ways to go,” said Isenbecker. Part of that is making the area attractive to prospective doctors.

The committee meets next on Jan. 24.

“Our intent would not be to have this as a permanent fixture, we’re doing this as a way of helping and supporting the community, because the community was really active in this process,” said MacEwan.

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