Two medical clinics are opening in what a senior healthcare official calls a wholesale shift in how medicine is to be practiced here.
“June is D-Day when the delivery of medicine in Terrace is to change,” said Northern Health Authority northwest medical director Jaco Fourie, referring to the June 1 opening by Dr. Mariette de Bruin of the Spruce Medical Centre on the 4600 Block of Lazelle Ave., beside the Service Canada office.
Renovations have already begun inside the clinic space.
That’s to be followed in late summer when Dr. Herman Greef opens the H.G. Health Centre in the Lazelle Ave. building now housing Terrace Interiors but which will become vacant next month when that business closes.
Each clinic is busy finding doctors to work in the clinics with commitments already made and more doctors expected to sign on in the next months with the goal of each having as many as five or more full-time equivalent physicians on staff, said Fourie.
READ MORE: Terrace doctor shortage getting worse
With the exception of the Lazelle Ave. Medical Clinic which opened last year and which is regarded as an overflow clinic to the existing practices at the Park Ave. Medical Centre for people lacking a family doctor, the two new locations mark a departure from what happened 22 years ago when physicians in Terrace consolidated their practices in the purpose-built Park Ave. location.
On a broad scale, the plan is for the new clinics to be staffed by existing Terrace physicians and new ones to the community, the latter being the result of a concentrated recruitment campaign to overcome a critical shortage of family physicians which has left an estimated 10,000 local residents without a doctor.
Each clinic will establish its own identity, personality and options for the kind of medical care it will offer, said Fourie.
“These will be different clinics with different schedules,” he added.
As of two weeks ago, Fourie said three physicians have committed to working in Terrace with hopes a fourth will do the same soon.
Also expected are three doctors from other countries who have been attracted to B.C. with the hope of obtaining Canadian credentials to practise in the province. They must first pass a series of assessments and exams and undergo a 13-week clinic work experience under the guidance of a physician.
These three have reached the above stage and they now must work for three years in an underserved community such as Terrace as their part of the bargain, said Fourie.
“We hope to have them here by August, if they all arrive,” said Fourie of the three physicians.
While the clinics will operate as stand-alone businesses, Northern Health, with money from the province, is undertaking another campaign to boost the number of family physicians here.
And that’s to increase the number of doctors working in the Mills Memorial emergency room by offering part-time fixed pay rate positions.
READ MORE: More ER doctors to speed up care in Terrace
The ER positions offer financial stability and give a doctor the chance to practice emergency medicine with the hope they’ll spend the remainder of their work week at a local clinic, said Fourie.
There are now four physicians amounting to 2.5 full-time equivalent positions in the Mills ER now and the plan is to bring in more to reach 7.5 full-time equivalents.
“We want to get up to 10 physicians when all the contracts are signed,” said Fourie.
Northern Health is also reaching into its budget to provide a three-month subsidy to help cover the overhead costs for doctors setting up their practices in local clinics.
And as a specific measure, Northern Health will provide financial support to clinics to establish a set number of hours each day to see people who don’t have a family doctor.
“We’re utilizing this strategy to attach people [to a family doctor],” said Fourie. “It’s an interim measure and [we expect] that pool to get smaller and smaller.”
Overall, Fourie was confident providing primary care will be much improved by late August given the concerted effort to attract physicians and their families to the area.
That effort is gaining momentum with a first meeting several weeks ago of local elected officials, health care officials and physicians as a first step toward forming a society dedicated to family physician recruitment.
READ MORE: Recruiter strives to find docs for Terrace
“We’re aiming at 18 full-time equivalents,” said Fourie, roughly double the amount here now.
But because not all physicians will work full time, the actual number of general practitioners needed will be more than 20.
And even when that target is reached, Terrace and area will continue to need a focused recruitment strategy as vacancies occur in the medical community, he said.