The clinic with no doctors

Pine Medical Clinic saw its most recent patient on April 19. That's when the last of its doctors closed her practice there. The retirement of Dr. Lis Densmore left 2,000 patients orphaned when she retired. Dr. Jacob Abraham had planned to leave the clinic a year ago.

Pine Medical Clinic saw its most recent patient on April 19. That’s when the last of its doctors closed her practice there.

The retirement of Dr. Lis Densmore left 2,000 patients orphaned when she retired.

Dr. Jacob Abraham had planned to leave the clinic a year ago, but he stuck around to help fill the gap left in Densmore’s wake.

“I begged him to stay, to give me time to try and recruit somebody,” said Kathy Williams, the clinic’s manager. “But he didn’t, we weren’t able to really find anybody, and I couldn’t hold him to that any longer.”

The clinic was set to close. The building was sold.

But, by a stroke of luck, the new owners shared Williams’s commitment to do whatever it takes to keep the clinic open.

A doctor, currently working out of Whitehorse Medical Services, was recruited to take over the practice and save the clinic.

Pine Medical Clinic will see patients again, starting July 1.

Williams is now actively recruiting doctors and nurse practitioners to fill out the staff.

For now, the clinic is open on an administrative basis, but is not seeing clients, said Williams.

Patients can ask questions and get copies of their files.

Dr. Eric de la Mare is basically retired, but is still helping out with things like reading lab results, said Williams. He will continue to do annual medical exams for pilots, she said.

About 200 of the clinic’s patients have found new doctors, said Williams. But the rest are left with few options.

“It’s sad, because I have people come in and say, ‘I’ve been seeing Dr. Densmore for 30 years,’ including myself. What do you do? My heart goes out to them, because some people have chronic issues that need to be taken care of.”

Densmore specialized in women’s health, so women in particular have been hurt by her departure, said Williams.

Now that the Yukon Women’s Clinic at the hospital is only accepting maternity clients, gynecology services are hard to come by for those without a family doctor.

“It used to be open, women could go and have a pap there,” said Williams. “Where can you have a pap? I suppose emerg would do it if they had to, but who wants to go sit for three hours? And emerg is overflowing with people.”

Two years ago, the government announced a two-track model at Whitehorse General Hospital’s emergency department. Under that system, patients could access the hospital both for urgent care and for requests of a family-practice nature. It was intended as a stop-gap measure until doctor vacancies could be filled.

But emergency is still being used as a makeshift walk-in clinic.

Walk-in services outside of the emergency department are limited.

As of May 1, the River Valley Medical Clinic is accepting walk-in patients on Saturdays, according to the Department of Health and Social Services’ hotline for people looking for a doctor.

It will also accept walk-ins Monday through Friday, but patients with an appointment are given priority.

No clinics are currently registering new patients, with the exception of pregnant women seeking maternity care.

The department polls clinics on a regular basis and updates the information on the hotline as it becomes available. The number is 393-6980.

The government has been trying to solve these issues, said Williams.

“I’m not blaming them, because I can see that they’re really trying to figure out a way out of this. It’s not easy because right across Canada they’re having problems with doctors in the community.”

The competition is stiff. Earlier this year the B.C. government announced a $100,000 bonus for doctors who would commit to working for three years in certain communities.

The Yukon government has hired a full-time physician recruitment officer. It has also set up a website, www.yukonmd.ca, dedicated to bringing more doctors into the territory.

The problem could be partly relieved by recruiting more nurse practitioners, said Williams.

Yukon licensed its first nurse practitioner last month.

Nurse practitioners are experienced nurses with at least a master’s degree in nursing.

Armed with their upgraded licence, they can perform some doctorly duties like diagnosing patients and writing prescriptions.

People seeking treatment outside of the nurses’ qualifications can be referred to a physician.

“I think it would take a big load off,” said Williams. “That’s my feeling. I know a lot of the doctors feel that the nurse practitioners might take away some of their own income, but at this point I find that hard to believe. Because nobody will take patients, so what do you do?”

When it comes to filling out their staff, Pine Medical hasn’t ruled out any options, said Williams.

“We’re just kind of looking at what’s out there. It’s slim pickings, but we’re trying to be creative.”

The clinic has been advertising in medical magazines across Canada. But the response is quiet.

The emails that Williams does get are typically from doctors trained internationally, she said. She refers those people to the Yukon Medical Council, so they can learn more about the process to become licensed in Canada.

There is one international medical graduate who is well on her way to join the clinic, said Williams. But that hasn’t been finalized.

Before coming to Yukon, doctors trained outside of Canada must undergo a three-month assessment program in Alberta.

A full staff at Pine Medical would be about four doctors, or a combination of doctors and nurse practitioners.

With four staff or one, the clinic will open again in July, and provide some relief to the orphaned patients.

The search is keeping Williams more than busy, she said.

“I want it to be about finding a solution, because that’s the important part of what we’re doing, we want to help these people.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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