Tom Davies doesn’t see the grand opening of the Oceanside Health Centre as the end of a long road.
The spokesman for the citizens’ group that played a big role in the push to improve health-care services in this region said he believes the OHC is just the starting point.
“We all agree that five years from now we will not recognize this place,” he said. “It’s going to evolve in such a positive way. This is just the first step in a change in the way we deliver health care services. This is a new way of doing things and I think it’s going to serve as a template.”
More than 200 people attended the grand opening Thursday morning of the $17 million facility in Parksville. The ribbon-cutting was led by Health Minister Terry Lake in his first official duty in his new portfolio. The facility opened to the public Monday morning and various services (like urgent care) will be phased in by September.
“This facility means easier access to health services, all under one roof,” said Lake, who also said the OHC would ease the strain on emergency departments in neighbouring jurisdictions that see 8,000 visits a year from people of Parksville Qualicum Beach. “I hope we can replicate this in many communities around the province.”
Lake, and everyone who spoke Thursday morning, offered thanks to former MLA Ron Cantelon for his support and determination in getting the OHC built.
Like Davies, Parksville Mayor Chris Burger said he was viewing this occasion as the start of bigger things for the region.
“I see it as a really important turning point,” said Parksville Mayor Chris Burger. “It marks the beginning of a shift, and recognition from the provincial government the important need for enhanced medical service for the Oceanside region.”
Parksville-Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell did not attend the grand opening — she was competing at the Canadian Track and Field Championships in Moncton — but did supply a video message.
When the centre opened Monday it was not fully staffed or ready to handle urgent care (set a broken arm, for example) or primary care (family doctor) needs.
Urgent care is scheduled to start Sept. 16 and will be available from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., 365 days a year. Primary care will be available starting Sept. 30 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. New patients are welcome, and VIHA says preference will be given to people who currently do not have a family doctor.
When the facility opens Monday morning, medical imaging (x-rays), lab services, specialty care, environmental health services and integrated community primary care teams will be available.
If you want to book an appointment or need some information, you can call the OHC (250-951-9550) or call the medical imaging office directly (250-951-9570).
VIHA’s executive medical director Dr. Bob Burns said enough physicians have been hired — about a dozen — to cover the urgent-care shifts, and there should be news about other physicians soon.
“We’re doing the interviewing for the primary health care side later this week,” he said.
Burns was asked to characterize the relationship between VIHA and Parksville Qualicum Beach physicians.
“I think it’s respectful,” said Burns, who pointed to working groups and discussions involving VIHA and the organization that represents local family physicians, the Oceanside Division of Family Practice. “We have some issues, there’s no question, but we’re talking.”
Burns said he couldn’t comment on whether local doctors have bought in to the OHC concept.
“My sense is there’s now acknowledgement that it’s here and I think there’s acknowledgement we deliberately came in without having a competitive approach. We don’t want to poach, we don’t want to compete with them for patients.”
On the second floor there is also a large room with dozens of work stations and computers. Almost 200 people — clinicians, administrators, etc. — will work with OHC as their base, although with shift work and the in-the-community nature of some jobs, there will never be that many people in this area. This also means a lot of newly-available lease space in Parksville Qualicum Beach, as most every VIHA office in the area will now be working out of the OHC. Burns also said he believes the Parksville walk-in clinic will be closing by the end of August.
The second floor’s open-concept working area and has only two offices, one for the centre’s general manager, Sheila Cruikshank, and another for the yet-to-be-named medical director.
Burns was asked what was happening in regards to the medical director’s position.
“We are holding it in abeyance mainly because we are trying to get the primary health-care-team docs sorted out,” said Burns. “It will likely be one of them.”
Davies, the former spokesperson for the Federation of Residents’ Associations, talked about the integration of services at the OHC and he told The NEWS this new approach to providing health care might actually help people reduce their use of these costly services.
“I think it’s also an opportunity for folks to have an awareness created that we are really responsible for our own health and if we accept responsibility for our own health we can stay in our homes longer and we don’t have to clog up the hallways and emergency wards of hospitals,” said Davies.
Please check our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/PQBNews) and our website (pqbnews.com) for more images and video from the opening Thursday.