Kim Kinnell spent an entire day trying to get her 13-year-old daughter in to see a doctor. The Agassiz woman used to have a family doctor in Chilliwack, but like many other B.C. physicians, her doctor recently retired.
Kinnell’s daughter was complaining of ear discomfort, unable to sleep and even crying from the pain of what was later determined to be an ear infection.
Kinnell took her daughter to the Stevenson Open Access Clinic in Chilliwack around 10 a.m. on Jan. 4 to discover it was closed. She was informed it would reopen at 3 p.m.
After driving to several other walk-in clinics – all full – Kinnell and her daughter returned to the Stevenson Clinic around 2:30 p.m. to find that the clinic was not only open, it already had 36 people in line. The pair didn’t see a doctor until 5:30 p.m.
Kinnell’s story isn’t rare, especially for Agassiz and Harrison residents without family physicians. Locals swap stories in community Facebook groups, trying to determine the fastest, closest place to take their children or themselves when they’re ill.
But the hassle of waiting hours at a walk-in clinic might not be the only problem caused by the province’s doctor shortage.
In 2015, the Vancouver Sun reported a backlog of 200,000 British Columbians looking for a family physician. That’s 200,000 residents less likely to receive regular checkups and screenings.
“You don’t have a doctor to follow up on you. You’re always at the mercy of the walk-in doctor,” Kinnell said. “I find you have to be your own best advocate. You have to put your foot down a bit and say, ‘We need to see a specialist now’ or whatever it is you need.”
Chilliwack Division of Family Practice coordinator Emily Sayward said getting more physicians into the area is a top priority.
“We, in partnership with the Chilliwack Economic partners Corporation and Fraser Health are working diligently on this,” she said. “There were 7 new doctors [recruited] to Chilliwack last year alone. But the thing is, we just can’t keep up with the booming drive out to this area. In addition, we always have doctors that leave – they retire, they take new opportunities in new communities…”
While a family doctor is the best way to get consistent healthcare, Sayward said there are many programs set up to help people during the ongoing doctor shortage.
The Patient Attachment Mechanism (PAM) is an online registry available to people living in Agassiz, Harrison, Chilliwack and Hope. Individuals registered with PAM are notified when a family doctor becomes available in their area.
For immediate, but not emergency, care, MediMap is a site that provides instant access to walk-in clinic info, providing hours of operation, capacity and wait times for participating clinics.
Locally, options are limited. The Agassiz Community Health Centre is not currently accepting new patients, but it is expecting a third doctor to join the practice this summer.
Hope’s Fraser Canyon Clinic is open Monday to Friday from 1:30-4:30 p.m. and works on a first-come first-served basis.
Seabird Island Medical Centre may accept new patients of, or related to, First Nations or self-declared First Nations. The Seabird Island drop-in clinic prioritizes existing patients, but others – status or non – are encouraged to call the clinic to see if they can be accommodated at 604-796-2165.