Walk-in clinics and a very 'chilling' first week of the year

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
January 7, 2017 - 5:00am

KAMLOOPS — I don’t want to hear one more person say, “It’s positively balmy” every time the temperature creeps above minus 20. But there’s nothing like a prolonged period of feeling as though you’re living in a refrigerator to make you think about the fundamentals.

Walk-in clinics, for example. Standing in line at 7:30 in the morning waiting to get through the front door when it opens is nobody’s idea of a good time, ever. I know; I’ve done it quite a few times.

Fortunately, this past week wasn’t one of them. Others, however, weren’t so lucky.

The routine for walk-in clinics, as we’ve reviewed on previous occasions in this space, is to show up well in advance of door-opening time, which is typically 8 a.m. That means you have to get there at least a half hour or an hour early if you want a chance at being somewhere within the first 30 or 40 people to get an appointment, which likely as not will be some time after lunch.

The best strategy for 20-below weather is not to be outside in the first place, but if you must be, to keep moving. Standing in one place isn’t recommended.

So the deep-freeze weather this week has simply re-enforced the obvious, which is that this is no way to run a healthcare system.

Nancy Bepple, who’s the NDP’s nominee for the Kamloops-South Thompson riding in the upcoming provincial election, has been heavily focused on the doctor shortage, and took the initiative of standing in a walk-in clinic lineup to get a feel for the situation, on a wind-chill morning of minus 28.

Good on her. I’m not at all clear how she and her party would fix the system, but it bears discussion beyond the Band-Aids the Liberals have been applying.

Bepple has been getting a lot of reaction both to her own Facebook post and to the copy I re-published on the ArmchairMayor.ca website and Facebook page.

It’s hard to convince people that a wealthy province like B.C. can’t afford to at least give people a warm place to wait in line until they can take a number for an appointment with the doctor of the day.

There are probably practical reasons why not, one being that any heated area would quickly be filled with street-involved persons doing their best not to freeze.

They also wonder why walk-ins can’t take phone appointments. (Interior Health says it will look at some sort of limited triage system for taking phone appointments.)

I remain unconvinced that much can be done to “fix” walk-ins but if we must have them (the term “walk-in” has become misleading, to say the least; they’re actually walk-in, walk-out, walk-back-in-later clinics), we should try.

So isn’t it time there was a serious, organized community dialogue about walk-ins? Good ideas come from people who are invested in a problem, and every one of us has an investment in this one.

Wouldn’t it make sense to get people together in one place along with the Health Ministry, Interior Health and private walk-in owners to talk about it and look for ways to improve the service walk-ins provide? We are, after all, the customers.

It should be a major campaign issue yet nobody’s laying out a platform on what to do about walk-ins.

It would be a great thing if provincial politicians of all stripes were to bring people together to talk specifically about the walk-in problem and how to solve it.