Nfld. & Labrador

Patient advocate says province should 'clamp down' on Corner Brook clinic

A health clinic in Corner Brook that is charging patients fees for basic health care services is a violation of the Canada Health Act, which the provincial government is legally obliged to uphold, says a spokesperson for the Canadian Health Coalition.

Fees charged by Livewell clinic a violation of Canada Health Act, says Natalie Mehra

Ellisa Sinnicks-House is a nurse practitioner who runs the Livewell clinic in Corner Brook. (CBC)

A health clinic in Corner Brook that is charging patients fees for basic health care services is a violation of the Canada Health Act, which the provincial government is legally obliged to uphold, says a spokesperson for the Canadian Health Coalition.

It means the wealthy get to jump the queue.- Natalie Mehra, Ontario Health Coalition

"The provincial government should be clamping down on clinics like this that are charging direct fees for patients for access to health care services," said Natalie Mehra, who is also the executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition.

The Canada Health Act is intended to ensure citizens do not have to pay user fees for medically necessary hospital and physician care, Mehra added.

She said the services being provided by Livewell clinic in Corner Brook are "expressly covered" by the Act.

"To charge patients a user fee to access those services which they've already paid for in their taxes is a direct violation of the Canada Health Act and it shouldn't be happening," she told CBC News.

Nurse says she's 'filling the gaps'

Livewell clinic is operated by nurse practitioner Ellisa Sinnicks-House.

She says patients come to her because they want to save time, or do not have a family physician.

A typical visit costs between $20 and $30.

"My intent is to fill gaps that are there and to help take some strain off the healthcare system, and help people who don't have access in other places," she said during a recent interview.

Patient advocates, however, say it's a slippery slope towards private health care. It's a battle that's being fought in large provinces such as Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia, said Mehra, and should be stopped in Newfoundland and Labrador.

To charge patients a user fee to access those services which they've already paid for in their taxes is a direct violation of the Canada Health Act and it shouldn't be happening.- Natalie Mehra

Mehra said it began in Ontario with low user fees, but has since ballooned to "thousands of dollars for access to basic medical care."

She called fee-for-service clinics such as Livewell "a violation of the core idea of compassion that underlies public health care for everyone in Canada."

She said if there is a problem of access to care, and nurse practitioners are available, there should be questions to the provincial government.

"Why is there no funding mechanism for them to provide care publicly? Why are they charging individual patients for what they've already paid for in their taxes?" Mehra asked.

She said the shift towards a fee-for-service model will ensure the wealthy receive care, but will eventually mean fewer resources for everyone else.

"It means the wealthy get to jump the queue," she said.

With files from Vik Adhopia

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