Health Minister Adrian Dix. (Black Press files)

Health Minister opens ‘urgent primary care’ centre in Surrey

The centres were a promise of the NDP along the campaign trail, and the Surrey location is the fourth to open in B.C.

An “urgent primary care centre” has officially opened its doors in Surrey. Minister of Health Adrian Dix came to Surrey to launch the site on Nov. 14.

Premier John Horgan announced last June that Surrey would be home to one of the first centres, which were an NDP election promise and aim to take pressure off of hospital emergency rooms, help people who don’t have a family doctor, as well as operate on weekend and hours outside of clinics.

In all, 10 such facilities are planned across the province, and Surrey’s is the fourth to open.

“The Surrey Urgent Primary Care Centre will connect patients with ongoing primary health care delivered by a team of professionals, as well as provide a same day-care alternative to waiting in emergency department,” said Dix in a release. “At least a quarter of visits to the Surrey Memorial Hospital emergency department involve individuals who should be seen by member of a primary health-care team, including a family doctor, nurse practitioner or other health-care professional. This centre will now provide that option.”

The Surrey Urgent Primary Care Centre is located at the City Centre 2 building (9639 137A St.), near specialists’ offices, other health-care services as well as Surrey Memorial Hospital. The one-time capital costs to get the facility up and running were $3.1 million, a release notes, and it will cost $3.8 million to staff and operate annually.

The centre officially opened on Nov. 13. Starting in January, the centre will operate from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week but from Nov. 14 to 16 it will operate from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Those hours will extend to 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. starting on Nov. 19 and through to Jan. 10, 2019 (Monday to Friday only).

The government says the North Surrey centre, and the primary-care network it will be a part of, will “work to connect people to consistent health-care providers in the community who are accepting new patients” and “make it easier for people to receive follow-up care.”

According to the provincial government, nearly 78,000 people in Surrey alone do not have a family doctor. Province-wide, it’s estimated one in six people don’t have a doctor.

See more: B.C. launches plan to tackle doctor shortage, emergency room congestion

Surrey’s centre will be able to see up to 1,300 patients per week when fully up and running, according to a release, and will be able to “attach up to 5,000 patients over time.”

The government says Surrey’s centre will have a seven-day-a-week team of four doctors, seven registered nurses, two nurse practitioners, two pharmacists, four social workers, seven medical office assistants and two mental health clinicians serving a variety of patients, including “vulnerable residents who have complex care needs, including the frail and elderly, people needing specialized mental health and substance use services, and the North Surrey/Whalley community.” The centre will also do outreach by connecting nurses to community locations such as shelters.

See also: ‘Concept planning’ for a new Surrey hospital is underway

Residents will be able to visit the facility to be assessed by a nurse, and a variety of appointment options will be offered, including one-on-one visits, appointments with multiple providers, “telehealth” visits, home visits and group appointments to support people with similar conditions. The centre will also provide diagnosis and care for “non-emergency conditions” requiring medical attention within 12 to 24 hours, including lacerations, ear aches, back pain and sore throats.

The BC Nurses’ Union president Christine Sorensen told the Now-Leader Wednesday she is “cautiously optimistic.”

Cautious, she said, because she doesn’t want these urgent care centres to become another medical office. “We have always voiced strong support for these kind of patient-focused primary care initiatives, or policies,” said Sorensen. “Where I have concern is as these initiatives are being rolled out, certainly as the president for the nurses of British Columbia, I don’t see a commitment for full consultation.”

Sorensen said many patients don’t always need to be seen by a doctor, and that nurses can help with many needs. According to Sorensen, nurses in B.C. need to be utilized more in primary care — not just these urgent settings. “Strengthening primary health care is critical,” she said. “We need to do that. And nurses are central to this transformation. We need to look at innovative and alternative ways to providing health care.

“We need to utilize nurses to their full potential and scope,” she said. “We need to look beyond that urgent care model. We treat patients urgently in a moment of crisis, but so often it’s the after care, care at home, care in the community, care that prevents them from coming back. That’s often done by nurses.”

Utilizing nurses to this potential is also important in terms of retaining those already in the system, noting a nursing shortage is imminent.

Maintaining status quo and not hiring enough nurses is “risky, noting retiring family doctors are not always being replaced, as more doctors choose to be specialized,” she said.

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