British Columbia

Fraser Health to open new COVID-19 clinic after Port Coquitlam clinic announces closure due to staff burnout

Fraser Health says it is going to open a new COVID-19 testing site after the Tri-Cities' only COVID-19 testing site announced Friday it will soon be closing its doors.

Doctors and staff at Port Coquitlam clinic say they're overworked, citing limited staff and resources

The COVID-19 and Influenza-Like Illness Assessment Clinic in Port Coquitlam is set to officially close its doors next Friday. (Google Maps / Matt Killick)

Fraser Health says it will open a new COVID-19 testing site in the Tri-Cities, after the region's only COVID-19 testing site announced Friday it will soon be closing its doors, citing burnout. 

In a letter to residents, medical director Dr. Jordan Sugie and family physician Dr. Carllin Man describe how staff are overworked and burned out.

The Tri-Cities' COVID-19 and Influenza-Like Illness Assessment Clinic in Port Coquitlam was started by a group of independent family physicians after the closure of a previous testing site in New Westminster.

But it was only ever meant to serve as a stopgap until a high-capacity testing site could be built in the following weeks.

For four months, it alone served the region which is home to more than 200,000 people. No new testing site opened during that time, and the staff at the small clinic are at their wits' ends.

"We simply cannot continue for our own health," wrote the doctors, who put their practices on hold to start the clinic.

"With our limited staff and resources, we are no longer able to continue running our testing site."

On Friday afternoon, Fraser Health responded by saying they would be opening a new testing site in Coquitlam at TransLink's Coquitlam Central Park and Ride lot. In a statement, the health authority said it was officially notified Thursday that the existing test collection centre in Port Coquitlam would be closing.

"[We] extend our gratitude to the physicians who undertook this important service for people living in the Tri-Cities," the statement read.

The Port Coquitlam clinic closes on Oct. 2 and the new Coquitlam testing site opens on Oct. 5.

During the transition, the nearest testing sites for the residents of the Tri-Cities can be found in Maple Ridge, Burnaby or Surrey.

Fraser Health will open a new testing site in Coquitlam at TransLink's Coquitlam Central Park and Ride lot on Oct. 5. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Mayor calls on health authority to 'step it up'

Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West says the region has been let down by Fraser Health, adding the doctors at the COVID-19 and Influenza-Like Illness Assessment Clinic never should have had to take on the responsibility of offering a testing clinic, but did so because there was a need that wasn't being met.

"I don't blame the doctors at all. These doctors have come together and put this clinic together and operated [it] on their own," he said. "It shouldn't be left to a couple of individual doctors in our community to make this happen. This is why we have a health authority."

In a news conference Friday, Norm Peters, vice-president of regional care integration with Fraser Health said plans for the new testing site were already underway and are not related to the closure of the physicians' clinic.

"This private clinic was actually not connected to us as part of our overall community-based strategy," Peters said. "Many physicians still continue to provide the tests within their own offices, which was the case here. The timing of which, though, is fortunate for us because we are opening our centre, which comes closely after this one is closing."

Dr. Victoria Lee, Fraser Health's president and CEO, said it is important to continue to work in collaboration with health care providers in the community. 

"We all are in this together," Lee said. "People have been working incredibly hard and stepping up and stepping into various roles and other partners in the communities as well."

'It's our line of defence'

Camille Mateos has been waiting to get a COVID-19 test for the past few days. She lives in the Coquitlam neighbourhood of Maillardville.

She was worried about the region potentially losing its only testing site. 

"You can't take transit if you don't know if you have COVID or not. You don't want to spread it to your community."

Burnout was also a concern for her. 

"We can't have doctors right now being overworked. It's our line of defence. If we don't have our line of defence, we're in a really bad place," she said.

With files from Tim Weekes

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