A shortage of doctors has led to the closing of a walk-in clinic in Maple Ridge.
The privately owned Ridge Meadows Care Clinic, located at 22932 Lougheed Highway, will shut its doors for the final time on July 31.
“There’s a physician shortage here, and across B.C. it’s a problem,” said Treena Innes, executive director of the Ridge Meadows Division of Family Practice.
It is her job to recruit doctors, and over a three-year-period the provincial recruitment drive known as A GP For Me resulted in 17 doctors coming to the community. But other doctors have since retired, and the city is growing.
“We can’t keep up with the demand – people moving to the community,” said Innes.
According to Dr. P. du Toit, president of the Ridge Meadows Care Clinic, which operates two locations, there were up to 36 family practitioners who covered 18-20 hours per month, in addition to their family practices. This allowed the clinics to stay open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. Now there are just 12-14 active physicians remaining in the group, he said.
He explained that in the past doctors would semi-retire and take clinic shifts, but that is no longer happening as frequently.
“Some physicians found College requirements for working in our walk-in clinics too cumbersome and retired completely, some retired without finding replacements for their practices and recruiting newcomers to work in the clinics other than on a part-time basis proved difficult, if not impossible,” he said in a written statement explaining the closure.
So a meeting of the RMCC members determined to focus on one clinic, which is located in Meadowtown Shopping Centre.
The Division of Family Practice tries to connect patients with doctors, and runs the websitesfindadoctormapleridge.ca and findadoctorpittmeadows.ca.
On those sites, family doctors who are accepting patients can post their contact information.
She said the number of doctors accepting patients changes, so patients should check back regularly.
Innes said the convenience of walk-in clinics is appreciated by many patients, including commuters who work outside the city during the day. But she said many regular clinics are operating as walk-ins on Saturdays, for the convenience of their patients – but not any patient, as the Ridge Meadows Care Clinic does.
“There’s different models popping up to meet patient needs,” said Innes.
The retirement of longtime doctors with “huge patient panels” means two or three new doctors are required to take on their patients, she added.
“New doctors want work-life balance, and rightfully so.”
The shortage is nationwide. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Canada ranked 17th out of 21 countries in the number of physicians per million population.
There are 4.5 million Canadians who report they do not have a family doctor.
According to Canadian Medical Association 2015 statistics, there were 232 physicians per 100,000 population in B.C., which is in line with the national average of 228, ranking fifth among the provinces.
While “A GP For Me” has ended, Innes said the division continues to attract doctors through a “Red Carpet Program,” which sees potential recruits picked up at the airport, booked into hotels and toured through the community.
Innes said there is a wraparound service for new doctors. However, she deals with a physician interested in coming here only about once every three months.