Heathcare centre to be opened at Parkwood Mall

A healthcare centre devoted to providing urgent and primary care to people without family doctors will be opened in Parkwood Mall in June, Premier John Horgan said Wednesday.

The second of its type to be established in northern B.C., the centre is similar to an after-hours walk-in clinic for people who need help but do not need to go to the emergency room.

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However, the clinic will also provide follow-up care by appointment during the day.

Horgan said the clinic will start with pharmacare services but be expanded over the next three years to provide drop-in "team-based" care. At full capacity, the centre is expected to serve about 8,000 people per year.

Coinciding with that, an outreach program is to be established. To be based out of the city's Central Interior Native Health and Blue Pine community health centres, providers are to bring primary-care to patients wherever they are.

Work is also underway to establish a mobile support team to deliver mental wellness services.

Overall, more than 30 new healthcare providers are to be recruited for the centre and outreach program, consisting of a general practitioner, two nurse practitioners, one clinical pharmacist, a First Nations elder to ensure cultural safety, and 26 nursing and allied healthcare providers.

By the time it's fully rolled out, the province will put $4.7 million per year towards the effort.

"As we all know, good health is a foundation of a good life," Horgan said. "And we have been working tirelessly for the past 20 months to try and ensure that we're delivering healthcare where it's needed, when it's needed, in the most cost-effective way, ensuring the right provider is with the patient to meet the needs of those individuals, to meet the needs of families, to meet the needs of regions," Horgan said during a media event at the Prince George Public Library.

Health Minister Adrian Dix was also on hand. He credited the city's healthcare community for making the developments possible.

"The reason we are in Prince George today is because the Division of Family Practice, Northern Health Authority, nurse practitioners stepped up and said 'we want to do this here,'" Dix said, noting all of the city's 32 clinics are participating in what's been dubbed a primary care network.

On another issue, Horgan and Dix said the effort to build a new surgical tower at University Hospital of Northern B.C. has reached the concept stage and agreed when asked it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when.

"I think that's a safe bet, yeah," Horgan replied.

Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond welcomed the news on both fronts.

"I welcome any sort of improvements to access," she said. "We know we've been having issues at our hospital in terms of overcapacity and who's in ER."

Bond also noted the latest rollout is based on a "fantastic northern model, building on it and adding capacity here in the north, so I think that's an important announcement. And I want to congratulate members of the family practice team who have literally been leaders in the province."

On the surgical tower, Bond said she was "relieved to hear that we've at least got the concept plan on the agenda but again it's always in that caveat of there are lots of communities that have needs.

"Prince George is a northern centre, it deals with thousands of patients across northern British Columbia, so we need to keep pressing to make sure that we move any improvements to our infrastructure up on that list.

"But I think we heard the premier say today it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when and I'm going to continue to remind him that the sooner, the better."

Also on Wednesday, Horgan and Dix were in Quesnel to confirm $27 million worth of upgrades to G.R. Baker Hospital. The emergency department and intensive care unit will be tripled in size. Construction is expected to start in late 2019 and be complete in 2021.

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