West Coast Family Medical Clinic in Sooke has managed to avoid the closures and reduced hours caused by doctor shortages plaguing several clinics in the Capital Region, at the moment.
Dr. Robin Saunders, a family physician in Sooke for the past 32 years, said the clinic has
avoided the same fate as some other clinics because the move to a multi-disciplinary team has enabled the clinic to increase the number of people they serve.
“We amalgamated the Evergreen Medical Clinic and the Harbour Medical Clinic in Sooke under one roof and created the West Coast Family Medical Clinic in 2011,” said Saunders, who recently retired but continues to fill in at the clinic.
“Since then, we have expanded to form a multidisciplinary clinic with 10 physicians, a nurse practitioner, three registered nurses, a dietician and a social worker supported by a large contingent of medical office assistants. We are a teaching practice affiliated with the University of B.C.’s Victoria campus. It’s been a huge success.”
There are usually two trainee family physicians in the practice at any given time and medical students, Saunders said.
The current crisis with the shortage of family physicians providing longitudinal care in B.C. is also an issue in Sooke, but perhaps not to the same extent as in other communities, Saunders said. Wait times at the clinic are reasonable, with people usually able to get in for urgent appointments within 24 hours.
“We have benefited enormously from close collaboration with the Ministry of Health, Island Health, the South Island Division of Family Practice, Sooke council and our local political representatives to develop a clinic that serves the needs of the population of Sooke,” Saunders said. “This could only have been achieved through the hard work of the whole team, close collaboration with our partners, and a group of physicians determined to implement positive change.
“The population of Sooke is expanding very rapidly,” he said. “We have attached many new patients living in the Sooke area from the provincial registry waitlist to primary care providers at the clinic.
“Unfortunately, with the explosion of growth in Sooke, we have not been able to attach everyone, and attracting new physicians to the community in the current environment will be a challenge. With recent additional funding from the province, we hope to be able to provide improved access to patients requiring urgent care who will hopefully then be accepted as new patients as circumstances permit.”
“Although Sooke is an attractive community for physicians to work in, the COVID pandemic, the recent explosion in house prices, the significant debt family physicians carry when they complete their training, the incipient retirement of many older physicians, and the lack of new family physicians entering the workforce has led to increasing pressures on the health care system that will undoubtedly impact our ability to provide care in the future,” Saunders said.
“Without a radical change in payment mechanisms and a willingness of all parties to collaboratively redesign primary health care in the province, we will see increasing fragmentation of services, and Sooke will be no exception in this regard.”
Saunders co-chairs the Primary Care Network Steering Committee. He also co-chairs Partners for Better Health, including primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, Island Health, First Nations, and patient representatives. These committees are designed to collaborate to implement the Ministry of Health’s strategic plan to form primary care networks across the province.