Fears that Ucluelet could be on the cusp of losing its local medical clinic were confirmed last week, though Island Health says its ready to step in to avert the impending crisis.
“We continue to meet with the physicians who operate the clinic, and with the Town of Ucluelet to finalize plans on a temporary location for the clinic until a longer term solution is determined,” an Island Health spokesperson told the Westerly News via email. “In the short term, this includes securing leased space in Ucluelet to ensure there is space to continue providing primary care services in Ucluelet.”
The spokesperson added that Island Health is still working out a service model for its Ucluelet clinic and more information is expected to be announced in the coming days.
“The clinic service model is being finalized to support maintaining primary care services in Ucluelet while longer term solutions are worked on,” they said. “Island Health continues to meet with Rural and Remote Division through the Long Beach Chapter on the submission of an Expression of Interest for a Primary Care Network.”
The spokesperson could not confirm whether the Island Health clinic would be leasing the same space the current clinic is operating in, but said more information is expected to be announced in the coming days.
In an email to the Westerly News, Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Josie Osborne wrote that her office met with the District of Ucluelet and Island Health representatives last week and suggested Island Health is willing to take over the clinic’s lease.
“I know that Island Health has been actively engaged and meeting with the physicians, and I’m really pleased to hear that it has advised the Ministry of Health that it will take over the lease for the clinic space,” Osborne wrote. “I understand that discussions are continuing with the doctors about overhead costs at the clinic. This is incredibly important so the clinic can continue while longer term solutions are developed so people have stable access to primary care.”
She added that access to medical care is vital.
“It’s incredibly important for people to be able to see their doctor at a clinic or health centre near their home, and the Ucluelet clinic serves more than just Ucluetians, it also serves people living in Hitacu and Macoah,” she wrote. “Having to travel to Tofino or Port Alberni is more than just a matter of inconvenience, it would put additional strain on those clinics, and greatly impact those people who have less access to transportation or who cannot leave work for the hours it would take to be able to see a family doctor.”
The clinic is currently leased by Dr. Carrie Marshall and both she and Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noel publicly announced last week that financial assistance would be needed to keep the clinic’s doors open.
“The reality is, (Dr. Marshall) is basically subsidizing to have the clinic and it’s out of pocket for her,” Noel told the Westerly News. “She brought that to my attention at the beginning of the year, so we’ve been trying to work on solutions in the background.”
He said he and Dr. Marshall made the announcement to draw attention to the issue after efforts to gain financial support from the provincial government came up empty.
“We had to go public,” Noel said. “Probably we should have gone public a couple of months ago, but we’ve been really working on a lot of different solutions and every door gets shut in our face.”
He said he spoke with Osborne about the issue in January, but that conversation led him to believe the municipality was expected to come up with a solution on its own.
“To me, the clinic being shut down is not an option. It’s unacceptable and we’re trying to figure out how the municipality can, if we need to, play a role,” he said. “What I’m nervous about is, if the municipality starts to give the province its solutions for medical services, which is (the province’s) responsibility, it’s just another example of downloading.”
He added there are complications around how much support local governments can provide.
“I’ve tried to reach out to some societies in the community, wondering if there’s a way for them to assist because the district, the way it’s set up under the Community Charter, we can’t be writing a cheque to be supporting an independent business,” he said. “It gets kind of awkward. I don’t think that the Community Charter is reflective of what community needs sometimes, this is a prime example of that.”
The Westerly News reached out to Dr. Marshall for comment, but had not heard back by presstime.