Port McNeill is losing another doctor.
Dr. Joy Mijares announced she will be departing from the Port McNeill Medical Clinic at the end of May, leaving the community with only one doctor on staff and a rotating crew of visiting physicians who will fill in when needed.
“This decision has been prompted by the insurmountable difficulty of maintaining a viable medical practice within present conditions,” she said. “With only two physicians and some visiting locums, we have kept the hospital and emergency services open 24/7 for the past year, in addition to remote clinic visits and virtual and phone consults.
“This amount of work is unsustainable in the long run.”
She added that with her departure, she thinks keeping the hospital ER and inpatient services staffed with a doctor will be challenging.
“I expect that the Island Health Authority have plans to address this.”
Dr. Prean Armogam owns the Port McNeill Medical Clinic and has been at odds with Island Health for more than five years, fighting for a model change to ensure equality with neighbouring towns.
Armogam said via news release that Mijares’ departure no doubt leaves people concerned about their ongoing care with many questions unanswered.
“The staff and two doctors [himself and Mijares] at the clinic have worked tirelessly for nearly a year to ensure the continuity of your care, despite the pandemic. The impact on the hospital has also been significant.”
Armogam says all he wants is “to mirror the model in Port Hardy to better recruit physicians and thereby create a sustainable physician complement to serve the needs of our town and other areas that depend on us. This ask was again made clear in June last year highlighting the impact to existing health services that was imminent. The ask was only answered after considerable collective efforts from our mayor and other community leaders, including some of the remote First Nation communities we care for.”
Island Health is scheduled to meet with Port McNeill council on Thursday (Feb. 18) at 2 p.m to discuss the next step. The meeting will be held in-camera (private) so residents won’t be able to watch.
“The clinic has not been included in any discussions and is unaware of Island Health’s proposal,” stated Armogam. “It is not known if there will be any transition with our existing patients, clinic or staff in this model change which has made our planning for your continued care needs very difficult.”
Armogam is planning to continue to provide services from the clinic three days per week “until Island Health’s plan is in place and patients can safely transition over to a new provider.”
He added he wants to ensure a smooth transition “of your care to the new model should Island Health choose to engage. Island Health will be responsible for continued ER services from May 1.”
When asked to comment, Island Health stated the Port McNeill Medical Clinic is “a privately owned and operated clinic, independent from Island Health. Physicians are independent business people who choose where they want to locate their medical practice… While Island Health is not responsible for recruiting physicians into private practice, we have been supporting recruitment efforts to bring additional physicians to the community for some time.”
Island Health also noted that for several months, it has been exploring options to support and stabilize the future of primary care, emergency, and inpatient services for the residents of Port McNeill.
“This includes both short-term options, and long-term planning. The challenge of recruiting medical practitioners to rural and remote communities is not unique to Port McNeill, the Island Health region, or even B.C. We look forward to engaging with local leaders and the broader community to support a full community approach to recruitment, an approach which has proven successful in other jurisdictions.”
Island Health added it is also working collaboratively with the First Nations Health Authority to support the First Nations communities whose primary care needs were supported by the Port McNeill Medical Clinic.
There have been rumours that Island Health is poised to announce a new primary care clinic built next door to the Port McNeill Hospital, but neither Island Health or Port McNeill council could confirm.