Island Health says it has reached a deal with doctors at the Ucluelet Medical Clinic and the landlord to keep the doors open for 18 months — rotating physicians for in-person and virtual appointments — until a long-term solution is established.
Under the agreement announced Wednesday, two physicians will provide in-person services on Mondays and one on Wednesdays, while patients will have access to online physician services Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
The health authority said it will 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 works with the clinic doctors and other health-care professionals to develop a primary care network for the Island’s west coast.
Such networks link doctors in a community with a range of other health-care professionals — including nurse practitioners, nurses, mental-health consultants — so patients have access to a physician-led team of health-care professionals.
The physicians will use Island Health’s group-purchasing abilities for medical and office supplies.
The health authority is also working with the Long Beach Chapter of the Rural and Remote Division of Family Practice, local Indigenous communities and the Health Ministry on longer-term solutions.
Health Minister Adrian Dix credited doctors Carrie Marshall, Lincoln Foerster and Celina Horn with working with Island Health to maintain primary care services for the area.
Marshall said she and her colleagues are happy about the interim measure that will allow them to continue to provide primary care to patients in Ucluelet and surrounding communities.
“All patients will continue to be cared for by their current family physician with no significant service disruption,” said Marshall, noting in-person appointments will decrease but telehealth options will increase.
Financially speaking the deal is a relief, said Marshall.
“It will alleviate some of the pressure of needing to work unsustainable hours to make the clinic financially viable.”
Still, Marshall called the short-term solution “a stop gap” in an unworkable system for primary-care physicians.
“Even with a significant contribution by Island Health towards operating costs, the financial sustainability of our primary-care clinics on the coast is very tenuous.”
She said sweeping changes by the province in how family physicians are supported and financially compensated are needed “or we will most definitely be back in this spot — and likely worse — in 18 months.”
A financial crisis had threatened to close the Ucluelet Medical Clinic at the end of this month. In January, Marshall — the leaseholder and owner of Ucluelet Medical Clinic — informed the town she’d lose money if she were to renew the clinic’s lease May 31.
Marshall and Ucluelet Mayor Mayco Noël went public with their concerns this month after failing to resolve the issue.
One option was for the municipality to take over the lease, but Noël was concerned about long-term sustainability and the precedent the move would set.
The mayor told the Times Colonist last week the clinic would remain open, albeit in a leaner fashion, with details to come from the province.
All of the physicians serving Ucluelet are based in Tofino and work shifts at Tofino General Hospital. It’s a 40-minute drive from Ucluelet to Tofino.