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Can an 8,000 sq. ft. medical centre fix Port Coquitlam's massive doctor shortage?

Mayor Brad West says the city is short-changed when it comes to medical services and family doctors, and hopes B.C. steps up to fund a new facility already in construction.

Thousands of Port Coquitlam residents have been told they no longer have a family physician, adding to a critical shortage of health services, according to the city's mayor.

Patients across the Tri-Cities were told last week they have three months to find a new doctor after at least one family physician left Wilson Centre Family Practice.

Meanwhile, at Burke Mountain Medical Clinic, hundreds of patients have to find a new doctor after a long-time physician passed away.

The situation in Port Coquitlam is getting dire, according to statistics supplied by Fraser Northwest Division of Family Practice. which shows that 1,404 residents are waiting to be "attached" to a doctor, with a minimum 241-day wait to get one.

Mayor Brad West believes B.C.'s strapped health care system is failing to keep up with the growing population and is putting services in Port Moody, not Port Coquitlam.

Not long ago, PoCo lost another important health service, he said, when the public health clinic moved to Port Moody's Newport Village. 

"We're a city of over 60,000 people and we deserve our fair share when it comes to medical services," West told the Tri-City News.

He's written a letter to Health Minister Adrian Dix about the city's "distressing" lack of family doctors.

"People should not be forced to travel far distances to access the medical care they need," West added.

Drive to Port Moody to get health care

His call for more services in Port Coquitlam comes as the province has just opened a new urgent and primary care facility in Port Moody and a new payment model has been created to attract more doctors.

But West said it will be years before new doctors are established while the new primary facility is "two cities over from us."

"Being told, 'Yeah, get yourself over to Port Moody or Newport Village,' that’s not good enough, especially, again, when we used to have more of these services in Port Coquitlam, right in downtown Port Coquitlam, before the provincial government moved them." 

Finding space for family doctors and outfitting it with medical equipment is another challenge.

Fraser Northwest Division of Family Practice — which has a year-long waiting list for family doctors — said it costs up to $5 million for equipment, while affordable space for a medical office is in short supply.

"Yes, these doctors have left, but we have the opportunity to have a community health centre, which is a model of family practice [that] new young doctors want to work in and to serve the PoCo community," said Kristan Ash, executive director of the physician-serving organization.

She said a new medical clinic with 8,000 sq. ft. of space being built in The Alex — an affordable housing development in Port Coquitlam — and could provide new family health services.

The clinic was a requirement by the city to approve the 83-unit affordable rental housing and child care centre project at 3235 Flint St., across from Kwayhquitlum Middle School.

But funding has yet to be confirmed for the project that will be "woman-focused."

B.C. government needs to fund new clinic: mayor

Janice Abbott, CEO of Atira Group of Women Serving Agencies in charge of building The Alex, said it's been a challenge to get the medical centre built but is hopeful the funding will come from the ministry of health.

Some doctors have already walked through the space, said Abbott, and the clinic could be open by summer 2023 if the money arrives.

"It's exciting," Abbott said, acknowledging that it's been "a bit of a haul" to meet the goal of having a family practice or medical service at the centre serving women and children.

"There have been moments when I didn’t think we would be able to honour it."

A similar health care centre operates in an Atira building in Surrey, she noted.

Meanwhile, Mayor West said the province must come to the table to provide funding to establish the clinic.

He said the funding would be a small amount compared to the giant health budget and the clinic is desperately needed.

"From my perspective the city is doing everything it can. It's been very creative, going far above and beyond in finding space. But at the end of the day it's the provincial government that funds the health care system, and they need to step up and make sure people in Port Coquitlam are being looked after."

As for Health Minister Adrian Dix, he said efforts are being made to bring doctors to the Tri-Cities.

He told a news conference in Port Moody today (Nov. 4) the shortage of family physicians is being attacked on several fronts.

By the time the new urgent and primary care centre is fully operational at 3105 Murray St., it will be staffed with the full-time equivalent of 5.1 full-time family doctors, 5.6 nurse practitioners, 5.1 registered nurses and 9.7 allied health professionals like social workers, physiotherapists, clinical counsellors and dietitians.

"All of these actions are required to serve everyone without a family doctor," Dix said. "There is more to do."

- with a file from Mario Bartel, Tri-City News