May 21, 2024

North Cowichan council decided to support the efforts of a newly formed society that is looking to create a community driven, team-based primary-care clinic in the Cowichan Valley.

Council decided in a 5-2 vote at its meeting on March 20 to send a letter of support for the Cowichan Valley Primary Care Society to the province’s health minister, advocate for the society’s proposed clinic model at the Union of B.C. Municipalities and provide a $1,000 grant to help the society with its activities, with the promise of the possibility of more funding in the future.

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Dr. Mark Sanders, who is one of six family doctors that comprise the society’s board of directors, spoke to North Cowichan council late last year seeking its support for establishing a primary-care clinic in the North Cowichan/Duncan area that would be owned and operated by a non-profit society, with plans to expand the model into other areas of the Cowichan region.

At the time, Sanders said that approximately 21,000 people in the Cowichan region don’t have a family doctor, compared to 17,000 in 2016, and establishing the society’s primary-care clinic, which would be similar to clinics operated by Shoreline Medical Society in Brentwood Bay and the Westshore Primary Care Society in Langford, in the Cowichan region would help attract more doctors and health-care workers to the area.

He pointed out that 50 per cent of family doctors now working in the Cowichan Valley are reporting significant symptoms of burnout, 29 per cent of family doctors in the area with practices plan to retire within the next two to three years, and 28 per cent plan to give up hospital work within the next six months.

Sanders also said that, when feasible, one of the goals of the Cowichan Valley Primary Care Society is to also take over struggling physician-owned and operated primary-care clinics in the region to prevent their closures.

At the council meeting on March 20, Coun. Chris Istace said that, if current trends continue, there is a possibility that up to 44,000 people in the Cowichan region will be without a family doctor in the region within the next two years.

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He said if the small amount of support North Cowichan will give the society could help the situation by creating an all-in-one primary care facility that would attract more professionals and health-care workers to Cowichan, then it’s a good move.

“Of course we hope the new hospital itself will be a lure for physicians, it being a state-of-the-art facility, but that’s still some time away whereas this clinic could be operational sooner than later,” Istace said.

Coun. Tek Manhas said he won’t support the motion for a number of reasons, including the fact that the province has yet to rehire many healthcare workers who were terminated in 2021 for failure to comply with provincial mandates regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘Every other province, every business, every jurisdiction has hired everyone back except for B.C.,” he said.

“We have individuals in the Cowichan Valley that could be hired back and alleviate some of the stresses on the health-care system and help people get a family doctor. Also, this is not our lane. This is a provincial responsibility and we just keep downloading more and more stuff onto ourselves and our taxpayers.”

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Coun. Bruce Findlay echoed Manhas’s objections about the province not hiring back healthcare workers post-pandemic, but also cited concerns about housing.

“As well, we want to bring more people to the Valley and more physicians and healthcare workers, but we don’t have the housing for it. We just turned down a real estate opportunity near the hospital at our last meeting.”

Coun. Mike Caljouw said he’s for trying to increase the number of doctors in the region any away council can.

“I agree that doctors and nurses being kept out because of COVID-19 should be back to work now,” he said.

“COVID is over and we need to move forward. But I don’t think that should be an influence on this vote because attracting people to the Valley is a separate issue. I think this is on our lane and we should be able to do anything we possibly can to help our residents get health care.”

The motion passed, with Findlay and Manhas opposed.

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