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Doctor crisis closes Richmond clinic

Thousands of patients left scrambling to find a physician after Seafair Medical Centre closes

Thousands of Richmondites are on the lookout for a doctor after one of the city’s most popular walk-in clinics was forced to close.

The Seafair Medical Centre — at the Seafair Shopping Centre on No. 1 and Francis roads — had to shutter March 31, due to a drastic shortage, province-wide, in physicians.

According to the clinic’s co-owner, Zina Pinkhafik, the vast majority of her patients, as far as she’s aware, do not have an alternative clinic to register with.

Pinkhafik, who has run the clinic with her physician husband, Paul, since it opened 25 years ago, said it was “very sad” the day they had to close the doors.

“We had one full-time and three part-time doctors,” Pinkhafik told the Richmond News on Monday.

“One has retired, one is semi-retired and one has left to work elsewhere; the fourth just did casual shifts here and there.

“In a way, it is very, very sad; this was our baby.

“The doctors are gone, obviously, but we are still here, trying to sort out the paperwork and doing all the scanning (of documents).”

Seafair Medical Centre closed March 31 due to a shortage of doctors

Pinkhafik cited the “big shortage” of doctors in the province and lack of sympathy from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC.

“(The college) is forcing doctors to retire. One of ours was at retiring age, but she didn’t want to retire,” she added.

“We’ve treated tens of thousands of patients over the years and we still have several thousand on record here.”

On Monday, Pinkhafik was wading through a mountain of paper files, processing them for the patients.

“We’re going to be here for another couple of weeks, then everything that’s left will just go into storage, it’s a very sad day,” she said.

Meanwhile, a petition calling on the province to provide British Columbians with better access to primary health care officially launched on Friday.

According to the Walk-In Clinics of BC Association, around 300,000 people in the province do not have a family doctor.

“It’s just not right,” said Mike McLoughlin, the Kelowna-based director of the association.

As well as Richmond, there have been clinic closures in a number of cities in B.C. due to a lack of doctors to staff them, including two in Vernon.

McLoughlin, who owns Medi-Kel walk-in clinic on Baron Road, blames the lack of doctors and a lot of red tape.

“There is usually one physician on the schedule (at a walk-in clinic),” he said.

“If they reach 50 visits then the province will only pay 50 per cent for further visits. If you get to 65 visits, then you get nothing. This is the daily volume limit.”

The association has 300 walk-in clinics in its directory and McLoughlin is hoping the petition will be available in clinics across the province.

Earlier this week, a trial petition was put out at a North Vancouver clinic with 100 signatures by early Wednesday, he said.

The petition calls for:

Training, recruiting and fairly compensating enough family doctors to provide sufficient and timely access to primary healthcare not only on weekdays, but also after hours and on weekends;

Reducing and/or eliminating government red tape (such as daily volume limits) that prevents family doctors from seeing patients in a timely manner, while at the same time upholding quality of care and patient safety;

Engaging with family doctors, allied health professionals, walk-in clinics and patients, so as to provide access to primary healthcare closer to home, in people’s neighbourhoods and in their local community.

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