Closure of Rutland’s only walk-in medical clinic expected to have a broader impact

Head of the Walk-in Clinics of B.C. Association says other city city clinics can't absorb the patients now seen in Rutland.

The head of the Walk-in Clinics of B.C. Association says the impending closure of Rutland’s only walk-in medical clinic will be felt throughout the Central Okanagan.

According to Mike McLoughlin, that’s because the other walk-in medical clinics in the city do not have the capacity to handle all the patients who don’t have a family doctor and used the Rutland clinic instead.

“If they come to our clinic, they just won’t get in,” said McLoughlin, who runs the walk-in clinic located in the Real Canadian Superstore in Kelowna. Up until 2011, he also ran another walk-in clinic in Rutland but it closed due to a lack of doctors available to work there.

McLoughlin said his Kelowna clinic currently has a waiting list of an astonishing 15,000 “unattached” patients. (An unattached patient is someone who does not have a permanent family doctor in town.)

McLoughlin said it is his understanding the Rutland clinic was seeing about 40,000 patients per year.

Last week, the Rutland clinic announced it will close in August after 20 years in operation, the last four as the only walk-in clinic in Rutland, which is the largest residential area in the city.

Founder and medical director Dr. Jim Allison said reasons for the planned closure include a lack of new family doctors to replace retiring ones, a growing and aging population and an edict from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. that walk-in medical clinics in B.C. become a regular patient’s “medical home”—in other words, that the clinic provide the same level of care, including after care, that a family doctor would provide.

He said his clinic is not technologically equipped to meet the ongoing care standard.

Several of the eight doctors at the clinic work there doing what Allison described as extra shifts on top of the work they do with their own patients at their own practices, which are located elsewhere in the city.

“I’m very sad to see this happen,” Allison said of the closure. “I thought that this clinic would be there forever.

But he said since starting with 17 doctors doing part-time work at the clinic in 1996, that number has dropped to just eight, including a few locums the clinic was able to attract.

He said the clinic is also not equipped with a computer system to handle the ongoing medical care patients can now expect from a walk-in clinic as per the  College of Physicians and Surgeon’s 2015 edict.

Allison suggested patients from Rutland go to other walk-in clinics in Kelowna after the Aug. 20 closure, specifically identifying McLoughlin’s clinic at the Canadian Superstore on Baron Road, another one on Cooper Road and a third in the Mission Park Mall shopping centre as being the nearest.

But McLoughlin said while his clinic and the others would like to help, he does not feel they can because they are all already handling more patients than they can serve.

“This is not just a Rutland problem,” he told the Kelowna Capital News Thursday. “This is a problem for the entire city.”

He said he expects many patients will likely turn to the next option once the Rutland clinic closes—the emergency ward at Kelowna General Hospital.

But that’s something both McLoughlin and Allison recommended patients not do unless it is a real emergency.

“The emergency ward should not be used as a walk-in clinic,” said McLoughlin.

Both men said anyone who has a family doctor in the city should use their doctor instead of walk-in clinics to free up space for others who do not have a family doctor.

The current estimate is that as many as 30,000 people in Kelowna, about 20 per cent of the population, do not currently have a family doctor.

McLoughlin said if the current situation persists, he could see a day when walk-in clinics limit the patients they see just to those on the “roster” of regular patients, or must line up outside a clinic before 9 a.m. to get their name on a waiting list before that list is cut off and no more patients are accepted for the rest of that day.