By Brian Cameron
Dozens of concerned residents stood in the searing heat on Monday afternoon to show their support for the Aberdeen Walk-in Clinic.
The clinic has suspended operations between August 5 and September 17 while the doctors who operate the clinic contemplate its future.
Dr. Chris Elliot and Dr. Thomas Park see approximately 10,000 patients at the clinic per year and say the clinic has reached a crisis point with the loss of one of its doctors.
The clinic has been serving residents of Pictou County since 2005 and has been under its current ownership since 2009.
An open letter from the two physicians to the community stated: “In 2016 we went from being open six days a week to four days a week when one of our doctors retired and we were unable to recruit a suitable replacement. … the doctors working at the Aberdeen Walk-In Clinic increased access to primary care to the residents of Pictou County through providing approximately 10,000 patient visits in 2017.”
Another issue with the clinic, they explain, pertains to the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness and MSI decision to exclude walk-in clinics from the enhanced fee model applied to other primary care provider office visits.
“We negotiated with Doctors Nova Scotia, one thing that was critical is they needed to be connected for continuity,” Premier Stephen McNeil told The Advocate in a previous interview.
“If that walk-in clinic were to scale up to become a collaborative practice with other health care team around it, we could make those adjustments… That is the model we will continue to use in partnership with Doctors Nova Scotia.”
“This is something the county really needs,” Dr. Elliott said. “For them to think this job could be done by a collaborative practice just shows they don’t have an idea of what a walk-in clinic is. For them to think it could be done by a collaborative practice just shows they need to look into their facts more.”
“In a small community like this where there are so many without family doctors you, in some ways, do take over their care. You’re obliged to investigations, tests and referrals — in many ways you’re doing similar things to what we would do in our office,” Dr. Park said. “Everyone should have a family doctor. About 30 per cent of our visits a night on average do not have a family doctor.”
It is in those 30 per cent that Pictou West MLA Karla MacFarlane sees a possible solution. “Simply paying the higher per diem for visits from those without a primary care doctor would seem to be an easy place to start,” she suggested. Her family is one of the many in the region without a family doctor. “The clinic is an essential service. Every day my constituency office sees people who are without a doctor. I think many people do not understand the crisis we will be in if the clinic closes.”
MacFarlane has arranged for a meeting to take place with the doctors and the Health Minister and she hopes a common sense deal can take place to save the clinic.
Pictou East MLA Tim Houston said, “When I talk to people in the community and really across the province, people have anxiety over how they can access care. We need different channels for people to access that care, when you take that away people’s anxiety ramps up.”
He added, “Better care saves money; keeping our head in the sand and pretending the conditions are not there will ultimately cost more money.”
Pictou Centre MLA Pat Dunn agrees it is crucial to keep this clinic open. “The long waits at Emergency will only get longer. We need to get a voice back locally at our regional hospitals. Our population is aging and the need for care will be increasing.” In supporting the doctors’ efforts to make the funding for doctor visits at the clinic comparable to doctor office visits Dunn said, “There is no common sense in the government’s position.”
Extreme heat did not keep dozens of local residents away from a rally in support of the Aberdeen Walk-in Clinic on Monday. (Cameron photo)