Wait times to see a doctor in Vernon could become significantly longer with the closure of a walk-in clinic.
The Vernon Family Doctors Medical Clinic in the Fruit Union Plaza will be closing permanently on March 19, 2016.
A doctor shortage is the cause of the closure, which the clinic has been trying to address for years. But having been unsuccessful, the decision was made to not renew the lease when it is up at the end of March.
“We have, over the years, had a significant decline in doctors,” said Dr. Jomar Barnard, medical director at the Vernon Family Doctors Medical Clinic.
The clinic currently has an average of about 20 doctors, compared to five years ago when it was operating with about 34.
“A lot of doctors have moved away from the walk-in setting,” said Barnard, also noting a large physician population which is moving into retirement.
“At the same time we see this large population growing.”
Despite efforts to entice doctors to come work a few shifts and even advertising to physicians in Lake Country and Armstrong, there hasn’t been much response.
“It’s not a unique situation just with Vernon, it’s across Canada,” said Barnard of a shortage, which includes specialists.
At times, the doctor shortage has even forced the clinic to turn patients away.
“It has been closed up early or even some full days where it was closed.”
With the clinic closing its doors for good in just four months, there could be a strain on the existing clinics as well as Vernon Jubilee Hospital.
“On average, we see anywhere from 80 to 100 patients a day,” said Barnard.
“We do expect that this may increase demand in the emergency room.”
The clinic is urging patients to seriously consider their need, and if it is not an emergency that they visit their family doctor or another clinic.
The clinic is one of three in Vernon serving North Okanagan residents. The other clinics are Gartree Medical Clinic in the Vernon Square Mall and the North Okanagan Medical Clinic inside the Real Canadian Superstore.
“We don’t know yet if those clinics will be able to increase their manpower,” said Barnard, who has his own practice and also works at the Superstore clinic.
Although it is a private clinic that is closing, Interior Health is keeping an eye on the situation and how it could affect local health care.
“It’s not clear whether the clinic closure will have any impact on IH facilities or services, but we are in the process of evaluating that,” an Interior Health representative told The Morning Star.
The wait times at the clinics are also expected to grow from the already lengthy times.
“It’s not uncommon that people will be waiting an hour to two hours,” said Barnard. “It (closure) may significantly increase that.”
The clinic has been watching how similar clinic closures have affected other communities, such as Kamloops. A closure there forced the remaining clinic to fill up with registrants often by 10 a.m., said Barnard.
“We prefer not to run it that way.”
But he does advise those who need to visit a walk-in clinic to come early in the morning, and also to consider whether their needs could wait to be addressed in a week or two by their family doctor.
Those who have medical records at the clinic can request their charts before April 1, 2016. After that, they will be held in trust by Dr. David Screen and can be requested from his office (located at 200-3207 30th Ave.).
“We are required to keep charts for 15 years,” said Barnard.