The Kootenay Lake Medical Clinic in the Chahko Mika Mall will no longer be open on Sundays after this weekend, a move its proprietor expects to put additional stress on the local hospital’s emergency room.
Dr. John Dale says a staffing shortage is forcing them to rethink their hours, and adds they aren’t getting much sympathy from the Interior Health Authority.
The clinic, which for the last 13 years has operated seven days a week including all but three holidays per year, is losing one of its partners: Dr. Robert Taylor, the lone physician on duty Sundays, is leaving to take a job with WorkSafeBC.
Dale says earlier this year they thought they had someone else lined up — a foreign trained doctor apprenticing for her Canadian license, who has worked for the clinic occasionally — but Interior Health refused to let her join them full-time.
Senior medical director Dr. Peggy Yakimov told them in a letter she was surprised to learn the doctor in question practiced there before, as she had not been approved to do so.
Foreign doctors “have very clear restrictions on their work in Canada, in that they are restricted to the employment for which they are sponsored,” Yakimov wrote. “Any changes must be authorized in advance and this was not done … Had she sought approval for this in advance, it would not have been authorized.”
Yakimov added that Interior Health sponsors foreign doctors to work in supervised settings they have influence over, including full-service family practices with hospital privileges. However, the clinic doesn’t meet that criteria because “you do not admit your patients to hospital nor provide ongoing care to them when they are in hospital.”
Furthermore, she said only one member of the clinic staff has hospital privileges and doesn’t use them much.
Dale says they were baffled at the response, and feel a standard is suddenly being applied where it wasn’t before.
“Our doctors look after patients, not just as a prescription-filling clinic,” he says. “We do full care, including chronic care investigations, and managing cancer patients. We take what comes in the door.”
Dale says despite searching, they have not been able to find any Canadian doctors willing to join their clinic — one potential candidate expects to look over Nelson soon, but won’t be available until next summer, “so we can’t base anything on that.”
And while Sundays can be “surprisingly busy,” with an average of 35 patients, readjusting their schedule isn’t so easy.
“We can’t say we’re open one Sunday a month,” Dale says. “It leaves us with a big hole. We’re not going to close the clinic, at least not yet, but we are basically missing a doctor three days of the week.”
Fridays and Saturdays will also only be down to a single physician. “We’re just going to scramble for Saturdays,” he says.
The upshot, Dale says, is the emergency room at Kootenay Lake hospital is likely to be a lot busier on weekends.
He says the majority of people who would otherwise come to them on a Sunday will end up in emergency.
“If it’s something they can’t get solved — even if it’s the last day for sutures to come out — they’re going to go to emergency to do it. Quite a few others can’t get in during the work week.”
Between the two groups, he says they have always found patients very grateful for their hours.
“It’s a source of pride that we’ve had a tremendous appreciation from the community. We hate to see the hours cut back, especially the parts where other clinics are not open.”
Dale says they have about 18 months left in their lease with the mall.
“After that it’s anybody’s guess if we can stay open without more doctors.”