The $17-million Oceanside Health Centre opened last Thursday with speeches, tours and much fanfare, as staff and politicians praised its integrated format as a model for others and a means to keep people in their homes and out of Nanaimo's busy hospital.
The two-storey facility, located at 489 Alberni Highway in Parks-ville will actually open in three phases starting Monday, when services such as X-rays and ultrasound are offered.
Urgent care services start on Sept. 16, while primary care will launch two weeks later.
Terry Lake, at his first official event as Premier Christy Clark's new Minister of Health, said the facility embodies the government's direction: easier access to primary and urgent care to help deal with problems before they require hospitalization.
"I can see that communities around B.C. will want to have this model," he said.
Lake praised retired MLA Ron Cantelon, who took on the Centre as his pet project and helped guide it through a sometimes rocky gestation period when many, including local physicians, criticized the plan as a glorified administrative building for the Vancouver Island Health Authority, duplicating services already here.
But there were no critical voices this day, other than a lone heckler at a distance who turned heads during one of the speeches.
Dr. Clair Biglow, a long-time general practitioner in Parks-ville, said he thinks the OHC is a great facility. "It's got great potential for collaborative patient care," he said.
"I don't think there's any negatives to it at all," said Parksville Coun. Marc Lefebvre.
Mayors Teunis Westbroek of Qualicum Beach and Chris Burger of Parksville were also present, as was RDN chair Joe Stanhope.
Stanhope noted that the local hospital district provided 40% of the capital cost, about $7 million, which local taxpayers are providing. He called the project "a big step forward."
"The reality is we're all aging and we're all going to need this facility, now or later," he said.
Stanhope said it will reduce the number of trips by Oceanside residents to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital and result in a healthier community.
Dr. Brendan Carr, VIHA's acting CEO (who replaced Howard Waldner in April) estimated that 5% of people in expensive hospital beds don't really need to be there, and said the OHC will help keep people in their homes. Carr, from Halifax, has served as an emergency-room physician at NRGH and in Victoria.
"We're going to certainly use our money better," he said of the new health-care model.
Dr. Bob Burns, VIHA's executive medical director, said staffing will be limited at the beginning to two primary care providers and one urgent care physician on site at any one time. If two urgent-care cases come in simultaneously, a doctor from primary care will be called over, he said. "The evidence on which we're basing the model says that should be sufficient."
In total, 12 or 13 urgent-care doctors and an undetermined number of primary-care physicians will be on staff, he said. If a resident feels a heart attack coming on and phones the Centre, they will be advised to take an ambulance to NRGH, Burns said, but anyone who comes in with a heart attack will be stabilized as best they can and then relayed to Nanaimo.
The facility's second floor will be home base for 85 clinicians and about 125 community health care workers who are normally in the field. Mental health services are among the many provided.
Urgent care begins Sept. 16 and is open from 7: 30 a.m. to 6: 30 p.m. seven days a week, all year.
Primary care will be available from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays starting Sept. 30, with Saturdays pending.
Parksville-Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell was competing in a wheelchair race in New Brunswick and could not be present, Lake said. However, she praised the facility in a recorded video.
Stilwell praised Cantelon and others for "having the courage to do the right thing in the right community at the right time."
Cantelon was present with his wife Shelley despite recently having a pacemaker implanted.
Tom Davies, one of Cantelon's citizen allies in the struggle to get the facility approved, said: "This is a very good day, I'm thinking."
[Brad Bird ] / Cutting the 'ribbon' are (from left): VIHA board chair Don Hubbard, health Minister Terry Lake, Acting VIHA CEO Dr. Brendan Carr and Michael Recalma of the Qualicum First Nation, who gave a greeting.; / Health Minister Terry Lake acknowledges the contributions of former Parksville-Qualicum MLA Ron Cantelon, seated at right with his wife Shelley.;
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