Nine months after high costs threatened to close the Ucluelet primary care clinic, Island Heath is seeking proposals to lease space for a new location.
Mayor Marilyn McEwen called it “really good news” for clinicians and community members and said council is “extremely eager” to see a new primary care centre opened.
In fact, a proposal for a mixed-use development that includes a ground-level health care office below upper-floor resort condos at 604 Rainforest Dr. has already received third reading for rezoning.
“I’m thinking [the developer] may have to tweak his drawings slightly to accommodate what they’re looking for exactly but that’s up to him now to do that work and apply to Island Health,” McEwen said, noting the developer, Nick Killins of Clayoquot Construction Ltd., owns the lot in question.
“We’re thinking it’s kind of shelf-ready.”
McEwen believes a new expanded primary care centre would retain more of the district’s young families and seniors while also attract more visiting specialists who don’t visit at all or as often as they are supposed to.
Island Health would like to open the new centre in September, though it says earlier or later dates will be considered. The deadline for the request for proposals is Jan. 26.
That might seem like a short window for proposals, but the district has been waiting months for this process to occur.
The current clinic almost closed last year, after the main physician warned the health authority she was working unsustainable hours to try to make the clinic financially viable and could not afford to renew the lease come May 31.
Island Health reached an 11th-hour deal with doctors at the Ucluelet Medical Clinic and the landlord to keep the doors open for 18 months until a long-term solution could be found.
The health authority said it would contribute to the overhead costs of the leased space for the primary-care practice — including utilities, janitorial services and office and medical supplies — while it worked to develop a primary care network for the Island’s west coast.
At that time, Health Minister Adrian Dix credited doctors Carrie Marshall, Lincoln Foerster and Celina Horn with working with Island Health to maintain primary care services in the area.
All of the physicians serving Ucluelet are based in Tofino and work shifts at Tofino General Hospital, a 40-minute drive from Ucluelet.
Marshall, working in Tofino’s emergency room on Monday, said she’s only heard about the RFP process and while she doesn’t know what it all means, she’s “optimistic that it’s all moving forward in a good direction.”
McEwen, first sworn in as councillor in 2014, said council has been working on the issue with Island Health for eight years.
In the early days, there were public consultations and stakeholder groups, a facilitator, thoughts of combining the clinic with the ambulance station, and options to use district-owned land. Time dragged on, construction costs soared and eventually it was put on hold. When a building that could have been retrofitted came on the market, “we couldn’t come to an agreement with the owner for the price,” she said.
“So to have this developer come forward and want to rezone that property for specifically for a medical clinic, it was like, ‘Oh, where have you been hiding?’ ”
McEwen acknowledged that it would be a tight timeline for Killins if he were successful and said that would be up to him to negotiate.
The heath authority wants the successful proponent to provide almost 7,000 rentable square feet of space for a community health centre that includes primary care, mental health and substance use, community home services and other clinical professionals as part of a primary care network strategy being implemented across Vancouver Island.
It’s looking for space for two physicians, one registered nurse, a social worker, an occupational therapist, a community health worker, and four clinicians who are counsellors or rehab workers.
The primary care office would be open five days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the potential to increase the hours and days. The request for proposals also calls for a site with well-lit parking for up to 20 to 30 clients, including five spots on site and 15 to 25 within walking distance.
Ideally, Island Health is looking for “turnkey proposals” that include all related costs, and a five-year term with two options to renew for five years.