Margaret Bohlken and husband

Margaret Bohlken and husband

Upheaval at Victoria health clinic worrying seniors

Clinic doctors quitting in contract dispute with Vancouver Island Health Authority

When Margaret Bohlken moved to Victoria eight years ago, one of her first concerns was finding a family doctor.

She had been going to the same North Vancouver clinic for 38 years for her increasingly complex health problems before moving to the Island, but had no idea her search for a willing physician would span three-and-a-half years.

“I was turned down 13 times,” said Bohlken, now 75. “Finally, someone told me about Health Point clinic.”

Vancouver Island Health Authority established Health Point Care Centre in 2004 for senior patients with complicated medical conditions who did not have a family doctor. The clinic’s client list now boasts more than 1,800 patients and has a wait list, a marker of its need and success.

But many patients worry their level of care could decline after the four part-time doctors who run the clinic told VIHA they were quitting over a contract dispute with the health authority.

Patient Stephen Gracey, 74, worries Health Point will soon turn into another walk-in clinic.

“It may be (better than) other clinics, but I don’t know what doctors are going to want to work there if the current doctors are leaving for very good reasons,” he said.

The physicians disagree with VIHA on the amount they should pay to operate the clinic and the number of patients they see.

“Our departure is due to an inability to reach an agreement with VIHA regarding our provision of services at the clinic,” reads a Feb. 27 letter from the doctors to their patients.

The clinic also employs three medical office administrators, two registered nurses and a nurse practitioner who are subsidized by VIHA, said health authority spokeswoman Sarah Plank.

“When Health Point was founded … the physicians were paid on a contract, rather than fee-for-service, and significant resources were put in place to support them,” Plank said.

The clinic switched to a fee-for-service model in 2010, leaving doctors responsible for 50 per cent of overhead costs such as rent, utilities and staff. VIHA covers the other 50 per cent.

Plank said an external review identified improvements that could be made in wait times, patient volume and a reduction in overhead costs.

“Efforts to remedy the situation have been unsuccessful,” she added.

Cal Tant, who manages Health Point for VIHA, said he’s doing everything he can to ensure a smooth transition and to recruit new doctors in the coming months.

The clinic will retain all its services, he said, but “it all comes down to what’s reasonable to pay … The bottom line is that the physicians are in a fee-for-service practice.”

Tant said he’s spoken with more than 100 patients to assure them their level of care will remain the same.

However, Bohlken said it will be hard to replace doctors with such a keen understanding of seniors’ care.

“It’s such an oasis,” she said. “Of course you want to have faith in a new doctor, but as you get older, there’s a trust and continuity that builds up with your caregiver.”

dpalmer@vicnews.com

Rally time

• Patients of the Health Point Care Centre will hold a rally outside the clinic at 1454 Hillside Ave. on April 17 at 10 a.m.

• For more information, visit savehealthpointhillside.ca.