The owner of Smithers’ only walk-in medical clinic, which will stop taking drop-in patients on July 1, expects there will be an influx of patients at the local hospital emergency room after the change.
The Bulkley Valley Outpatient Walk-In Clinic announced last week it would stop taking walk-in clients when it transitions to a family practice on July 1.
Owner and general practitioner Wouter Morkel said he has been seeing between 40-50 people a day at his Main Street medical centre.
He said he needed to reduce his workload because his family dynamic had changed.
“I have a little baby,” said Morkel.
“I’ve been running the clinic by myself for a year and I’m just seeing too many patients so I have to … limit the amount of patients that I see on a daily basis so the only way to do that is to only see my patients.”
Morkel said cutting back to between 30-35 appointments per day would also enable him to provide a better level of care for his clients.
Morkel said the change would put pressure on the local hospital emergency room but he believes it will cope with the influx of additional patients.
“I think it is going to put some strain on our emergency department but the hospital is aware of the changes so they are expecting a little bit of an influx,” he said.
“I think the emergency department should be able to cope with that.”
Morkel’s clinic is the only place in Smithers that takes patients without appointments.
Central Square Medical Clinic, Coho Clinic and the Broadway Clinic will take same-day appointments for emergencies, however waiting lists for family doctors are long.
Central Square has stopped keeping a waiting list and is encouraging clients to call back month-by-month to see if any places have opened up.
Morkel said Smithers was more fortunate than other communities in the area because a lot of its residents already had family doctors.
But he said Houston, which has no hospital, was facing a severe doctor shortage.
“It’s our neighbour town and … soon they will only have one doctor there really servicing 5,000 people but that also puts a strain on our emergency department [in Smithers],” he said.
Northern Health spokesperson Jonathon Dyck said in a statement the authority would continue to monitor its emergency department usage as normal.
“It wouldn’t be fair to speculate on the changes this may have on other health care services as there are other primary care supports available, and they are changing the model of service delivery going to an appointment based system,” he said.
He said Northern Health worked in consultation with physicians to provide advice on services that may benefit the community but the decision was ultimately theirs.
Dyck said people who were unsure about whether their situation required treatment at the emergency department could call HealthLink B.C. at 8-1-1 or visit healthlinkbc.ca.
“This does present a good opportunity to remind residents of Smithers that the emergency department is for urgent or sudden changes in health status, and people using the emergency department appropriately will help our staff and physicians focus on the patients with urgent needs and ensure there is appropriate space,” he said.