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Group proposes walk-in clinic at DO offices
A group calling itself Residents for Healthcare that is concerned about the lack of physicians and large numbers of local residents who can’t access a family doctor has proposed turning the current home of Destination Osoyoos into a medical walk-in clinic.
During a presentation to Town of Osoyoos council on Tuesday, Marilyn Mulldoon, who along with Brenda Dorosz and Gaye Horn have formed the organization they call Residents for Healthcare, said the Destination Osoyoos building located adjacent to town hall would be perfect to run a not-for-profit walk-in clinic.
Council has tentatively approved the current Destination Osoyoos staff move back to its former home in the modern B.C. Visitor’s Centre building at the junction of Hwy. 97 and Hwy. 3 early next year.
“We have met with Destination Osoyoos and they are on board,” said Mulldoon, who told council she is one of hundreds of local residents who have been unable to get a family doctor in Osoyoos.
With the support of town council, local healthcare practitioners and community volunteers, Osoyoos could offer a full service walk-in clinic, said Mulldoon.
“Together, we can do this,” she said. “There is nothing standing in our way.”
Dorosz said a petition voicing concerns by local residents over lack of access to family physicians and quality healthcare services has garnered almost 1,200 signatures, and that doesn’t include a couple of outstanding pages being circulated in town.
Mulldoon said she personally visited successful community walk-in clinics in the resort municipality of Sun Peaks (population 600) near Kamloops as well as Keremeos, which has a population of just over 1,500 residents or one third of the population of Osoyoos.
Sun Peaks formed a not-for-profit organization relating to community healthcare and raised funds for three years before opening a community clinic in a construction trailer manned by community volunteers several years ago, she said.
Physicians currently offer services two hours per day, seven days a week, while community volunteers perform administrative, clerical and maintenance duties, she said.
Doctors charge 90 per cent of regular MSP rates, with 10 per cent diverted to help run the community program, she said.
Doctors and their family members are offered free ski and golf passes and free access to the community pool as an incentive to offer services, she said.
“This has worked out brilliantly,” she said.
A nurse practitioner also visits twice a month to run a women’s health clinic, she said.
Things have gone so well there are now plans in place to build a 5,000 square foot full-service healthcare clinic, she said.
Corporate donations have been plentiful and some of the doctors involved have settled to live in Sun Peaks, she said.
“Talk about the little engine that could,” she said.
In Keremeos, plans to offer a full-service community healthcare clinic started back as early as 1999.
Community leaders made the decision to purchase a full town block to eventually build a healthcare clinic and other medical services, said Mulldoon.
The healthcare facilities in Keremeos now include “one stop shopping” with a walk-in clinic, laboratory, doctor’s offices and X-ray services. The facility is located next door to a long-term residential care facility, said Mulldoon.
There are four full-time physicians who work at this facility, including three who call Keremeos home, she said.
“Keremeos seems to be able to keep doctors there … and keep them happy,” she said.
Programs have also been established where medical specialists, including dieticians and mental health workers, visit the clinic on a regular basis, instead of forcing patients from Keremeos to travel to Penticton, she said.
If success stories like this can be established in tiny communities like Sun Peaks and Keremeos, it can happen in Osoyoos, she said.
Mulldoon ended her presentation asking for council to respond in writing within 30 days to their proposal to open a walk-in clinic in Osoyoos at the current Destination Osoyoos building.
Councillors Carol Youngberg and C. J. Rhodes asked Mulldoon if local physicians have been contacted to provide input and show support for a walk-in clinic.
About eight years ago, there was talk about a walk-in clinic in Osoyoos, but local physicians didn’t show strong support as most were swamped running busy family practices, said Youngberg.
“I would recommend you meet with doctors … because they would have to support it (walk-in clinic),” she said.
Mulldoon said she and her supporters would meet with any local doctor at any time.
“We would have no problem getting together with doctors … we will do that,” she said.
Dorosz said she has discussed this initiative with Dr. Robert Calder, Osoyoos’ longest serving family physician, and Dr. Jaco Bellingan, and both would be willing to be part of any community initiative that would help improve healthcare services in this community.
Mulldoon said this is where community volunteers would come and contribute their time in areas like reception, accounting and cleaning equipment.
If successful, the walk-in clinic could eventually create jobs, which are much needed in Osoyoos, she said.
Mulldoon said it’s wrong to have elderly patients living in pain for three years awaiting hip replacement surgery.
“People are suffering,” she said.
It would take a lot of hard work by town council, local healthcare professionals and community volunteers, but opening a walk-in clinic in Osoyoos is attainable, said Mulldoon.
“It is a giant task, no doubt about it,” she said.
Coun. Jim King said he has met with local doctor Garnett Tarr and discussed the issue of opening a walk-in clinic and would be willing to meet with him again to discuss options presented by Mulldoon and Dorosz.
“I’m willing to sit down with doctors and go from there,” said King.
Mayor Sue McKortoff thanked Mulldoon and Dorosz for their presentation and said she and members of council “will certainly look at” their proposals before any final decision is made.
Dorosz has become an activist in Osoyoos after forming the Save Our Schools committee that worked so hard to ensure Osoyoos Secondary School would remain open last year.
She ran unsuccessfully for the NDP nomination for Boundary-Similkameen in the upcoming provincial election.
Horn gained headlines by visiting the provincial legislature several weeks ago and voicing her frustration that her husband Lee had been living in agonizing pain awaiting hip replacement surgery for three years.
Lee Horn underwent successful surgery three weeks ago.
Horn and Dorosz, along with friend Jen Shiels, helped form the Osoyoos Gift Cupboard, which allows local residents to donate items ranging from slippers and towels to toothbrushes and deodorant.