Since opening its doors over a year ago, the Blue Pine clinic has helped hundreds of Prince George residents with complex health needs gain access to primary healthcare and now they're expanding the search for clientele.
Designed for patients unattached to a family physician, the clinic uses a different model than most general practitioners. The nurse practitioners and doctors work in a team environment alongside mental health and social workers to provide patients with a full range of services.
"For some people it's an advantage to have all of those health providers in one clinic," clinical team lead Megan Hunter said. "If a patient sees the GP and then needs to see a mental health clinician, rather than a referral out to somewhere else, we've got that health provider right on the site and it makes it easier for communication."
When it first opened its doors in the Commonwealth Health Building in July 2012, the Blue Pine clinic was only taking referrals from Northern Health. Some of the patients migrated from the unattached patient clinic which had been run out of the hospital, while others where identified as requiring complex care and referred to Blue Pine.
This week the clinic is expanding its reach and taking referrals from other community groups who are aware of people with complex medical needs, but without a primary care provider.
Designed for up to 5,000 patients when fully staffed, Blue Pine now services 735 patients with eight or nine more coming on each week. The clinic is staffed by two full-time and one part-time nurse practitioner as well as four physicians who combine to fill just over one full-time equivalent position. The capacity exists to add more primary-care providers as patient demand increases.
"The physical facility was built to accommodate five primary-care providers, nurse practitioners or doctors, and we think that one nurse practitioner or one doctor can manage approximately 1,000 patients if they're very complex," Prince George Division of Family Practice executive director Olive Godwin said.
A partnership between the division of family practice and Northern Health, the clinic is designed both to provide better care for patients who previously didn't have a family doctor and relieve the strain on other segments of the healthcare system like the emergency room.
Unlike traditional clinics, the doctors and nurse practitioners at Blue Pine are paid salaries, rather than fee-for-service. It allows them to spend more time with patients who often present with a series of medical problems.
BCMA president Dr. William Cunningham called the clinic a "guiding light" and said it's a prototype for other communities to follow.
"This clinic helps patients get the right care in the right location at the right time," he said. "It decreases the load on the emergency department and acute care facilities and when we do that we're improving health outcomes."
Although it seeks out unattached patients, Blue Pine is not a walk-in clinic because it becomes a primary care home for those that it serves. Godwin said it's not suitable for everyone who currently doesn't have a family physician, but she noted that there are four traditional family physicians in Prince George currently accepting new patients.
In the future, Hunter said the clinic is looking to expand the types of services its able to offer, such as adding nutrition teaching and programing to help those with chronic pain.
"We find that we have a large number of patients who have chronic pain issues, so we're looking to try to do some more programming - not just writing prescriptions to help them, but looking to see what else we do to help them cope with their chronic pain or deal with their chronic pain," she said.
Leanne Parker is one of those patients who deals with chronic pain everyday. Prior to the clinic opening she didn't have a family physician and needed to use the hospital for her primary care needs.
"It's nice to have people that are caring, that can get us in and out and listen to what we have to say, listen to our worries and concerns about our health," Parker said.
The division of family practice operates the clinic and provides some of the funding, while Northern Health also contributes funding, including salaries for many of the primary-care providers. Godwin described the division of family practice as the mother of the clinic and the health authority as the father.
"The health authority was definitely the sperm and the supportive father," she said. "Without the health authority we couldn't have done this."