Staff at Island Sexual Health are taking pay cuts or working shorter weeks in order to maintain clinical service levels as best they can for patients.
The Saanich clinic, which administered more than 4,500 Papanicolaou (Pap) examinations last year, continues to struggle financially as staff work to maintain service levels.
“The organization has done a lot of staff cutting. We laid off 3.5 staff,” said executive director Bobbi Turner, who in March said the future of the non-profit was up in the air. “There haven’t been any cuts specifically to clinical services or outreach education, but a lot of the community events have all been put on hold.”
Turner said all staff have taken cuts in hours or pay even as demand increases.
“I don’t now how many other organizations would have a team willing to take that kind of personal hit,” she said.
In the past 12 months, more than 27,000 clients used the services provided by Island Sexual Health, located at 101-3960 Quadra St. In addition to the cancer screening tests, the clinic also administers sexual transmitted infection testing and treatment, low-cost birth control and preventative health services.
Client numbers are up 16 per cent from the last fiscal year, Turner said.
“And what we’re now seeing is more complex issues,” she said. “We’re seeing a lot more older clientele who need more complex healthcare than a standard 10 to 15 minute session.”
Also compounding the issue is the growing number of patients visiting the fee-for-service clinic because they don’t have family doctors.
Island Sexual Health’s services are not paid for by the healthcare system; the majority of the organization’s funding comes from MSP billings.
“This has been a cumulative problem. There’s no question that what we’re trying to do is try and sustain a model that isn’t enough to cover the number of services we need to provide,” Turner said. “It’s just that now we’ve gotten so big and there’s such a huge demand and there just isn’t enough revenue … to sustain it.”
Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Andrew Weaver says he’s met with Turner to discuss long-term financial stability for the organization. Many of his constituents, especially students at the University of Victoria and Camosun College, contacted him when they heard clinical services were at risk of being cut.
“I had one young woman tell me that she couldn’t find a (General Practitioner) in Victoria. And if you don’t have a GP you cannot get a Pap smear anywhere else. The (Island Sexual Health) clinic was her only avenue to get it, and that Pap smear determined she had cervical cancer,” Weaver said. “That’s a pretty compelling example of how they’re meeting a need for so many people.”
The Green MLA has since forwarded some potential solutions to the Ministry of Health to assist Island Sexual Health in its goal for longevity.
“I hope the minister’s office recognizes the importance of this service, not just in my riding, but to the whole region,” he said. “I think the decision-makers, my generation, may not be aware of the value of services they provide. … Now the bureaucracies just have to spin their wheels to ensure that funding comes in in a manner to keep it up.”
Turner is requesting clinic supporters send letters to MLAs, MPs and the B.C. Ministry of Health to share experiences on the benefits of the clinic.
Island Sexual Health is also seeking financial support to keep their health and education programs operating. To make a donation call Turner at 250-592-3479 or visit islandsexualhealth.org.