Nova Scotia

Doctor shortage forces Lower Sackville walk-in clinic to shut down

The Community Care Walk-in Clinic in Lower Sackville, N.S., has posted a sign on its door saying it has been unsuccessful in recruiting new physicians to work at the clinic. It will close this week.

Community Care Walk-in Clinic unsuccessful in recruiting physicians; Tuesday will be last day of operation

A walk-in medical clinic in Lower Sackville will close on Tuesday due to a shortage of doctors. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

A medical clinic in Lower Sackville, N.S., will close its doors this week and a shortage of doctors is to blame.

The Community Care Walk-in Clinic, located in the Lawtons Drugs store on Cobequid Road, will shut down on Tuesday.

A note posted on the door of the clinic reads: "Unfortunately, despite our best efforts to recruit new physicians to work at this clinic, we have been unsuccessful, leaving an untenable work schedule on those of us remaining at the clinic."

Dr. Cindy Marshall, one of the physicians who works there, said the clinic had about 20,000 visits last year.

She said 80 per cent of the patients who come to the clinic either don't have a family doctor or can't get in to see their family doctor.

"There's a huge subsection of our population that uses this as a way to refill medications and for their health care because they don't have family doctors," Marshall said.

"And that's going to mean extra pressure on the walk-in clinics that exist in Sackville as well as the emergency department, none of which is good for the system."

Barry Soper dropped his wife off at the clinic Sunday afternoon. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

Barry Soper came to the clinic on Sunday with his wife.

They're lucky enough to have a family physician. But he said the loss of this clinic will "be a strain on the community."

"Doctors tend to be overworked and sometimes you can't get in to see them right away," he said. "My wife's up there right now. She had a problem that couldn't really … wait for a doctor appointment next week sometime. So she had to go to the clinic."

Marshall said other walk-in clinics in the area are also experiencing similar difficulties with recruitment.

She said the Community Care clinic has sent out letters to the community asking for support. It has reached out to the Nova Scotia Health Authority and approached fellow doctors to gauge interest. 

She said there isn't "a whole lot of interest" in the type or work that requires odd hours and weekend duty.

"And certainly with the disincentives that's happened between … payment models and being paid less to work a walk-in shift, it's harder to fill them because people would rather spend their time in their offices," Marshall said.

The Community Care Walk-in Clinic located in Lower Sackville is looking for a new owner. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

Marshall said the health-care system needs to get together to be "solution-focused, rather than pointing fingers."

CBC News reached out to the Nova Scotia Health Authority for comment on the closure of the clinic. A spokesperson said any questions about recruitment need to be directed to the business owner because it's a private clinic.

"I feel like everybody wants to blame the government and then the government wants to blame the health authority and then you go round and round," Marshall said. 

"I think that the only way out of the crisis that we're in is to be working together with all of us putting our heads together and coming up with adequate solutions to solve this problem."

The note on the door of the clinic indicated the clinic "will likely reopen in May under new ownership."

Lara Fawthrop, the NDP candidate for Sackville-Cobequid, took a picture of the closure sign on the clinic door and posted it to social media.

She has been canvassing the area with a byelection likely to be called next month. She said health care is top of mind for many residents.

The Cobequid Community Health Centre is located next to the clinic. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

Fawthrop said the closure will put more pressure on the nearby Cobequid Community Health Centre's emergency department.

"The Cobequid ER is already … the centre of the crisis for our Sackville residents. People are going to walk next door and expect — well, they know not expect — care, unfortunately," she said.

"And it's not our nurses, it's not our doctors, it's not our paramedics. They're still going to work and caring every day ... these people are struggling underneath a government that won't listen and provide them with more resources."

Brad Johns, the PC MLA for Sackville-Beaver Bank, said the province needs to do more to encourage more doctors to come to Nova Scotia.

"I recognize we're competing across the world to get doctors and across the country, but we need to make it as easy as we can to set up practices, they should be able to purchase practices," Johns said.

Johns said he's concerned the government hasn't dealt with issues that were flagged months in advance.

"I've been telling them now for two years that there are going to be two doctors in Sackville that retire, family physicians, and that when they retire there's going to be — I think they each have 3,000-plus patients, so you're looking at over 6,000 people that are going to be in this community without a family doctor," Johns said.

Given the shortage of doctors, Soper said he thinks it's time to turn to more creative health-care models — ones that don't rely so much on doctors. 

"Maybe use more licensed practical nurses in medical practices, more responsibility to pharmacists. I know they're doing that a bit, but we've got to sort of share the burden around.

"Sometimes you go to see a doctor and basically it could have been done by any health practitioner."

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About the Author

Anjuli Patil

Reporter

Anjuli Patil is a reporter and occasional video journalist with CBC Nova Scotia's digital team.

With files from Emma Davie

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