Vernon doctors offers final thoughts on closure of Sterling Centre Clinic

Docs comment on closure

Doctors who have been pressing to keep Vernon's last walk-in clinic open are speaking out, issuing a joint statement about the Sterling Centre Clinic's closure.

In mid-October, doctors sounded the alarm that the clinic would close on Nov. 15 due to a lack of support staff. The clinic has now been permanently closed.

Adrian Dix, the provincial minister of health, said prior to the closure that no additional funding would be made available to the clinic and resources would be boosted for the Vernon Urgent Primary Care Centre (UPCC), an appointment-based facility, and the Vernon Jubilee Hospital emergency room.

There was some disagreement on how much communication there was between the Sterling doctors and MLA Harwinder Sandhu, with doctors claiming they had not heard from Sandhu for weeks. The first-term MLA said she was in regular contact with the doctors.

The clinic doctors have issued one final statement on the closure.

Castanet is running it in full.

“Earlier in the year, the Ministry of Health - Primary Care Division saw the importance of our clinic existing, as they did with several clinics like ours in Vernon (including the now-closed North Okanagan Medical Clinic) and throughout the province, and provided short-term stabilization funding to keep clinics like ours operational so we didn't close earlier in the year. It was hoped that this would allow time for IH and the Shuswap North Okanagan (SNO) Division of Family Practice to work with us on a sustainable solution.

"IH and the SNO Division of Family Practice did not provide any solution or workable plan other than encourage us to accept the standard payment contract from the MOH that is offered to any family physician. We made it clear that funding physicians, through accepting the contract offered, was not going to solve the problem. The offered contract did not change the complexity of the unattached patients we served, nor did it allow us to provide better team based primary care.

"What was needed were the supports, including staff such as RNs, NPs, mental health workers etc., so essential team-based healthcare could be provided to this large group of patients, rather than remaining with the same isolated episodic physician care. Different from other sites in IH, at Sterling Centre Clinic we had been operating with one doctor at a time, one front staff, no security guard, a largely volunteer office manager and we had to solely be responsible for the management of the clinic as well.

“I reiterate again that physician remuneration was not the primary issue. What we asked for and wanted was to work with IH and the SNO Division to have our well-running urgent care clinic work in conjunction with the UPCC to provide sustainable team based primary care to un-attached patients. We had been clear in conversations with IH, and especially in the early summer when the NOMC stated they were going to close, that we expressed grave concern that our clinic was at risk of closure too if support could not be put in place. Our clinic's infrastructure was not created to handle the overwhelming surge of unattached patients that has evolved over the past few years. We were burdened with the job of supporting the unattached patients in our region in isolation... keeping them out of hospital and out of ERs. Our doctors and management stepped up because we knew that is what our community needed, and our small group of doctors (including those who were at the NOMC) felt passionate about providing this care. However, our clinic was unsustainable and we simply could not do that work alone anymore.

“We are sad to see IH and the SNO Divisions walk away from this responsibility of serving the needs of the unattached patients in this community. IH providing more managers and directing patients to 811 will not meet the needs of unattached patients' urgent and complex chronic illnesses.

“IH and the SNO Divisions say that we were a private clinic and therefore could not help. Well, Sterling Centre Clinic is no more a private clinic than any of our family medical practices, and the IH and the divisions are more than happy to assist in securing team-based supports to our own private practices. Further, the Sterling Centre Clinic was a community based clinic (as was the NOMC), staffed by a small dedicated group of physicians who stepped forward beyond their own practices to attend to unknown patients within the region covered under IH and the Divisions.

"There were no negotiations with us. How could there have been, as we had no contact from them over the past two months. Perhaps they had other interests. Simply, IH has been facing a problem for a while now, and our small group of physicians (including those at the NOMC) have been fixing their problem for them by stepping forward and working at both these clinics.

“Now IH has the same problem, and they will have to deal with it themselves. Most of our physicians will go back to working their already full family practices. Our physician group is sorry to see these patients face this further struggle as they navigate the healthcare system. We hope we do not have to wait too long for IH and the SNO Divisions to come up with their fine solution.”

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