Halifax private health-care clinic plans to expand across Canada

The Unified Health Community Triage Centre held its grand opening in Halifax on Sunday, but is already eyeing other locations.

Unified Health held its grand opening in Halifax on Sunday, but is already eyeing other locations

The Unified Health Community Triage Centre in Halifax held an open house and grand opening on Sept. 23, 2018. (Frances Willick/CBC)

A private health-care business that had its grand opening in Halifax on Sunday plans to expand across the country.

Unified Health Community Triage Centre opened its doors to the public in August, offering out-of-pocket treatment for non-emergency care, including the services of a nurse practitioner.

Although the Halifax location is Unified Health's only standalone clinic so far, the company already has a Halifax district manager and a Cape Breton district manager — a sign of its geographic ambitions.

Julie Harding, the Halifax manager, said the company's CEO is currently travelling across the country speaking with health-care practitioners who are interested in partnering with Unified Health or opening new clinics.

Julie Harding is the Halifax district manager of Unified Health. (Frances Willick/CBC)

"There will be other triage centres," Harding said. "So we're really just trying to determine where we need to go next based on the needs of the country and start opening up other locations based on that information."

Harding said Unified Health has partnered with the health and wellness clinic next door, Ohana, and is in the process of acquiring a clinic in Bedford. The company is exploring the idea of having three clinics in Cape Breton.

Raising eyebrows

According to its brochure, the Halifax clinic offers massage therapy, mental health counselling, physiotherapy, naturopathy, acupuncture, osteopathy, spiritual therapy, somatic coaching and virtual reality therapy.

Those services have a fee of approximately $80 to $100 for a session lasting 45 minutes to an hour, and most are covered by insurance plans.

But it also offers the services of a nurse practitioner for an out-of-pocket fee of $35 for a 15-minute appointment. That service at the clinic is not covered by the publicly funded system.

And that's raised the eyebrows of some people working in the health-care field.

Doctors Nova Scotia, which represents more than 3,500 physicians, has said the primary care services offered at the Unified Health Community Triage Centre could create a two-tiered system that erodes publicly funded health care.

'Band-Aid solution'

But Rhys Bevan-John, Unified Health's chief culture officer and somatic coach, said the clinic tried "desperately" to open as a not-for-profit, but there were too many roadblocks.

"The bureaucracy just stopped us every step of the way," he said.

He acknowledged that not everyone may agree with the clinic's model.

Rhys Bevan-John is the chief cultural officer at Unified Health and a somatic coach at the clinic. (Frances Willick/CBC)

"We're doing this thing that looks nefarious, and we're in total agreeance that this looks totally nefarious, and we don't want to be nefarious. We want health care to be free for everyone."

Bevan-John said staff view the enterprise as a "Band-Aid solution" for a system under pressure.

"We're doing whatever we can in order to make these services available now, because stuff's on fire and we're trying to put it out," he said. "In the fullness of time, it is my heartfelt intention with this company to make it publicly funded, to make it free."

Residents curious

The grand opening drew a few curious residents.

Kathleen Doane and her daughter, Michelle Doane, said they have a family doctor, but they would consider paying a private clinic if they felt it was necessary.

"If I knew maybe I could kind of wait until I could get into my clinic or a walk-in maybe, but if it was really bad, maybe I would," said Michelle Doane.

Jason Garnier​ said the clinic's existence is a sign of problems in the publicly funded system.

"If it can alleviate some of the stress off the ER system and get people into a centre like this so that they can get minor ailments treated, then I figure I'm all for it," he said. "But still I would think that there have to be steps taken to address the much bigger problem of more family physicians and more health-care centres."

Garnier said he doesn't necessarily see the clinic as the first step toward a U.S.-style health care system.

"But I don't know," he said. "If I start seeing a dozen more of these opening up in Nova Scotia over the next year, I have a funny feeling we may start going that way."

About the Author

Frances Willick

Reporter

Frances Willick is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Please contact her with feedback, story ideas or tips at frances.willick@cbc.ca