Nova Scotia

'We are coming to the brick wall': Sydney clinic will close this month without financial help

A doctor at one of the few walk-in clinics in Sydney says the service will end this month unless Nova Scotia's health authority provides some help with operating costs.

Doctor says Sydney Family Practice walk-in clinic can't afford overhead costs

Sebastian says the former Sydney Family Practice on Kings Road will only stay open as long as he has at least two other doctors to cover the overhead costs. (Matthew Moore/CBC)

One of the few walk-in clinics in Sydney is closing its doors at the end of the month unless it can get some financial help from Nova Scotia's health authority.

Dr. Reggie Sebastian, one of three physicians at the Sydney Family Practice clinic on Kings Road, said the situation is dire.

"I have to say, we've done the best job we can to keep this going," he said. "It is very unfortunate because I've been in this walk-in clinic nearly 21 years and I'm part of that organization and it is pretty hard for me to let this go."

Sebastian said he is worried most about his patients. "It is very difficult to let this go because I'm not too sure what they're going to do."

He said the clinic used to have up to seven doctors, but several left during the pandemic and the remaining three cannot afford the overhead costs such as rent, administrative staff and supplies.

Dr. Reggie Sebastian says he and two other doctors had no choice but to absorb extra overhead costs to keep the main walk-in clinic open in Sydney, N.S. (Submitted by Dr. Reggie Sebastian)

It is a part-time clinic and the other two doctors are older and retired or semi-retired.

Sebastian said the landlord wants a new lease starting May 1 and unless the province offers some assistance, the clinic will close.

"Unfortunately, we are coming to the brick wall right now because, at the end of this month, the current owner won't be able to continue to support us, so we have no place to go," he said.

Sebastian said he has been looking for a smaller location, or one that costs less, for the past two months. But he said rents are just too high.

"We know we have to do something about it, but we did try. Unfortunately, we couldn't succeed."

He also said the closure will hurt people in Sydney without a family doctor.

According to the health authority's latest report, the eastern zone saw the highest percentage jump in patients looking for a family doctor last month. Most of those are in Cape Breton.

It said the number jumped 35.6 per cent, with 8,836 looking for a family doctor. In Cape Breton Regional Municipality alone, the total is 7,780.

Province trying to help

According to the health authority's primary care clinic website, the clinic on Kings Road is the only one in Sydney.

However, there is one at the Lawtons Drugs on George Street, but it's not clear when that clinic is open. The website and voicemail list different hours and days of operation and both say patients are only taken by appointment.

Sebastian said he and his clinic colleagues met with the health authority recently to discuss the problem.

Megan Tonet, director of stakeholder relations and public affairs for the eastern zone, said in a statement the province is trying to help.

"We are in active conversations with the physicians right now to mitigate the loss of valuable primary health access to patients in the community and we hope to find a solution that allows the clinic to remain open," she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 17 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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