Esquimalt is getting its first infusion of family practitioners in years with the announcement of a new urgent and primary care centre.
The province will open the so-called UPCC — the fifth on the Island — in three units of an outdoor strip mall at 890 Esquimalt Rd. in December to serve Esquimalt and neighbouring View Royal.
Until then, a temporary location will operate out of the township’s public health unit.
The permanent location is expected to include family physicians, nurse practitioners and registered nurses, and to remain open evenings and weekends.
Two years ago, Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said the doctor shortage in her township — with a catchment area including CFB Esquimalt, Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, Vic West and a corner of View Royal — constituted a medical “crisis.”
The closing of the Esquimalt Treatment Centre in 2018 and the loss of the Westside Integrated Health Centre in Vic West in 2015 left the area with a single walk-in clinic, exacerbating a doctor shortage being experienced throughout the province.
An independent medical-needs assessment by Dr. Eileen Pepler of Pepler Consulting Group in May 2019 pegged the number of residents in Esquimalt without a primary-care practitioner at between 6,500 and 7,000, a number that was expected to increase to about 10,000 in 2020-21. About 17,650 people live in the township.
Desjardins said she “jumped for joy” when NDP Esquimalt-Metchosin MLA Mitzi Dean called with the news.
“People have been calling me and texting me every day asking: ‘When are we going to hear whether we are getting a clinic?’ ”Desjardins said.
“The anxiety level in the community is high because it’s literally been a vacuum for the last couple of years, and these people have been without a doctor and saying: ‘I’m waiting and I’m waiting.’ So this is going to be just so fabulous.”
The UPCC will open in two phases, with a temporary location opening Monday at 530 Fraser St., which will provide limited health-care services weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on an appointment basis.
The temporary site is anticipated to include a registered nurse, a registered nurse with certified practice, a mental health and substance-use consultant and two office staff. Meanwhile, the health authority will turn its recruitment focus on hiring doctors for the permanent location, Dean said.
“There’s been a lot of work going on to make sure that we’re able to bring in all of the different health-care professionals that we need — and doctors are really critical to that,” she said.
The temporary site will provide services to patients with minor ailments, those who need health screening, reproductive health services or support for chronic conditions and mild to moderate mental-health challenges, according to the Health Ministry.
The permanent centre will offer a full range of health-care services — by appointment and walk-in — to people who need to see a primary health-care provider or those who have an urgent need to see a physician within 12 to 24 hours but who do not require emergency-department attention or specialized services.
The province pegs the number of patients in the township who don’t have a family physician at 3,500, or 18.7 per cent of the population. That’s slightly above the provincewide rate of 17.7 per cent, which is, in turn, slightly higher than the national average of 16.8 per cent without a family doctor or nursing practitioner, according to a Statistics Canada 2019 report.
As doctors and nurse practitioners are recruited, the UPCC will try to link patients to a family physician or a nurse practitioner either at the centre or in the community, according to the Health Ministry.
Desjardins concedes it will be a challenge to fill the positions.
“It will take some time, yes, to fill those positions, but just knowing it’s coming will help a lot of people because there’s a lot of anxiety about not having a facility close, the ability to connect with somebody medical when they need,” she said.
The UPCC will be leased and operated by Island Health, with capital funding provided by the Health Ministry and the Capital Regional Hospital District.
To date, five urgent and primary care centres have been announced in Island Health. The first, in Langford, has had almost 60,000 visits since opening in 2018. Others are in Nanaimo, James Bay and North Quadra.