Every morning, dozens line up outside a St. John’s walk-in clinic. They say they don’t have another option

A doctor checks the pulse of a female patient as she sits on an examination table.
About 136,000 people across the province don’t have a family doctor, according to the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association. (S_L/Shutterstock)

Before the Mundy Pond walk-in clinic in St. John’s opened at 8 am Monday, dozens of people were already lined up, hoping to secure an appointment.

“There’s a lineup every time,” said Clara English, a senior waiting outside the clinic.

English started going to the clinic over the winter, after his family doctor retired. She said the clinic was her only option — other than the hospital.

“Then you’re waiting in the waiting room for eight or nine hours. And I mean, you know, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

She said she’s on a waiting list for a new family doctor but she isn’t expecting to get one soon.

“It’s terrible, because, you know, when you get to a certain age, it’s scary, isn’t it?” she asked. “I mean, you know, we’re not young.… We’re talking about in your 70s and 80s.”

English isn’t alone. According to the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, more than 136,000 people across the province don’t have a family doctor.

‘It is what it is’

The Mundy Pond clinic was one of the first of the province’s collaborative-care clinics, also known as family-care teams. Premier Andrew Furey has said family-care teams are part of the future of health care in the province, a way to mitigate staff shortages in all areas of the medical system.

“Team-based care is an essential feature of an effective and sustainable modern health-care system,” Furey said Monday.

Karen Doyle arrived at the Mundy Pond clinic at 7 am, hoping to get help with a throat infection.

“The service, I think, is great for anybody. Like if this wasn’t here, all these people wouldn’t have access to … medical help that they need,” she said.

LISTEN | People waiting outside the Mundy Pond walk-in clinic discussing the state of health care:

St John’s Morning Show15:02Garrett Barry chats with folks outside the Mundy Pond walk-in clinic

Where the budget rubber hits the road. We digest the provincial government’s big spending on health care, from the steps of the busy Mundy Pond walk in clinic.

Newfoundland and Labrador has eight family-care team clinics either in progress or already operating. Last week, Furey and Health Minister Tom Osborne said 10 more family-care team clinics are in the works.

According to Furey and Osborne, the 18 family-care teams will serve about 80,000 people across the province.

A man wearing a blue suit standing behind a podium with two microphones.  The pitcher plant of the Newfoundland and Labrador logo is visible behind him.
Last week, Premier Andrew Furey said family-care team clinics are part of the future of health care in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

In addition to the $21.2 million earmarked to open the new family-care team clinics, the provincial government has made a slew of spending announcements — including some in the new provincial budget, released last week — aimed at recruiting and retaining primary-care physicians.

Stephen Stamp, also lined up outside the clinic Monday, said his family does have a family doctor but it takes at least a month to get an appointment.

Like English, he said the walk-in clinic was the only option to get care for his sick wife.

“It sucks pretty bad. But it is what it is,” he said.

Clinic sees about 70 patients a day

According to Melissa Coish, Eastern Health’s regional director of primary care, about 70 patients secure appointments at the Mundy Pond clinic a day, depending on staffing — if more staff are available, she said, up to 120 patients could be seen. Coish said the clinic has a core staff made up of physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses and clerks.

She acknowledged the clinic wasn’t able to meet patient demands.

“We unfortunately continue to turn away patients every day,” she said.

Coish said patients are encouraged to return the next day or, in the event of an emergency, go to an emergency room.

She said the clinic has doubled in size over the past year, and has served more than 14,000 people since opening.

On Monday, Osborne said a new family-care team and urgent-care center for the St. John’s area should take some of the pressure off the walk-in clinic. He also pointed to a new physician payment model, which could see more doctors move toward team-based care. According to Osborne, the provincial government is also planning to expand virtual physician coverage.

“All of these things should help with that lineup,” he said.

None of those initiatives have been implemented yet.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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