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New team-based medical care for complex needs patients opens in Colwood

This story was originally published in The Westshore newsletter, June 2, 2022.

Westshore Community Health Centre.

Dr. Jennifer Ross (left), Shawna Adams, and Liz Nelson on day one of the new Westshore Community Health Centre. Ross is the centre's medical director, Adams is PCFSA board chair, and Nelson is PCFSA's executive director. (📸 Zoë Ducklow)

A new Community Health Centre opened in Colwood today, and if you’re not sure what a Community Health Centre actually is, you’re in luck, because neither did I. So I sat down with the board chair, Shawna Adams, to find out what patients and the public can expect.

"We are like an enhanced doctor’s office," she said, explaining that the Westshore Community Health Centre (CHC) provides team-based medical care, with a specific mandate to get patients with complex needs attached to a family doctor.

Their goal is to support people who have been relying on acute care services—like the Westshore Urgent Primary Care Centre up the road, or emergency rooms—to get people the care they need in a non-emergency setting.

The Westshore CHC is not a walk-in clinic, and it does more than a standard doctor’s office.

For one, it’s a non-profit, run by Pacific Centre for Family Services Association, which has been offering counselling and other support services to the Westshore for about 50 years. Doctors are not paid on a fee-for-service model, but are hired on a contract basis. Overhead costs are covered separately, so doctors don’t need to worry about the hydro bill, hiring medical office assistants, or paying rent. They get to focus on their patients and help connect patients with other supports, like a social worker, community health worker, or counsellor.

It’s funded by the Ministry of Health, with an annual budget of approximately $4M, and capital funding of $1.9M to renovate Pacific Centre’s space, which wasn’t equipped to hold medical offices.

At full capacity, Adams says the 9 doctors and 3 nurse practitioners can take on 6,700 patients, on top of the patients the doctors brought with them. They will focus, however, on complex care patients.

"They're the top users of the [acute care] system, and primary care is really an effort to keep people healthy and at home, and put less pressure on the acute care and walk-in clinics. Because if they're attached to a primary care provider, they're not going to be flooding to existing services. So it's a step forward," she said.

Centre was initiated by local family doctors

In 2019 some local doctors were looking for a way to better meet the needs they saw in the community. One was Dr. Jennifer Ross, now the medical director for Westshore CHC, and one was Dr. Randal Mason, who has previously been a core doctor at the Westshore AVI Health Clinic, a space focused on harm reduction and medical care for people using drugs.

The AVI clinic was an attempt at providing wraparound, community-based care, but its structure just didn’t fit the Ministry of Health’s funding model. Because of unsustainable funding, that clinic is winding down this month. All patients who saw their primary doctor there have been transferred to the Westshore CHC and most of its doctors, including Mason.

He was instrumental in starting Westshore CHC, and advocated for his patients at Westshore AVI to be able to transfer over.

Now, patients have perhaps one of the nicest waiting rooms in all of Greater Victoria. There’s a view of Mill Hill, snacks and refreshments, and gorgeous art. On one side of the building are counselling offices, a children’s play space, and an Indigenous healing room with a small patio to allow for smudging. On the other side are the new medical offices, a charting room for doctors, and a consultation room for when a cot, swabs, and needles aren’t required.

If you need a family physician, live in the Westshore, and have some kind of complex medical need, Westshore CHC asks that you register at Health Connect, a new registry for patients in communities across BC where a primary care network is trying to connect patients with doctors.