District of Lillooet asked to consider community-owned medical clinic

The future of the Lillooet Medical Clinic – and its ability to recruit and retain doctors – could rest in the hands of District of Lillooet Council.

Clinic owner Dr. Terry Miller, local surgeon Dr. Nancy Humber and former clinic manager Chellie Dickinson appeared as a delegation at District Council’s Oct. 2 meeting.

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They posed the question: “Does District Council have the desire to help keep doctors in Lillooet and area? They could do this by purchasing the grounds and building of the present medical clinic. This would guarantee the clinic site and give Lillooet physician recruitment and retention capability.”

Chellie Dickinson began the delegation’s presentation by stating, “I’m worried about what is going to happen down the road to our clinic.”

She noted that Lillooet’s four longtime physicians – Dr. Miller, Dr. Ian Routley, Dr. Humber and Dr. Karl-Heinz Mascher – have practised here for a total of more than 100 years.

“The reality is you won’t get that kind of service from the new young doctors…They want to be able to walk in and walk out of a practice. They don’t want to put in money, they don’t want to put in time running a business,” Dickinson explained. “My main concern is that most of our doctors want to retire or partially retire and given that Dr. Miller owns the clinic, he doesn’t want to sell it to a non-medical interest because that means the clinic is gone and that would mean that an incoming physician would have to start all over again.”

She said if the clinic folds, it would mean a loss of physicians, which would in turn mean a loss of services. “Maybe not the whole hospital, but we would lose services,” said Dickinson. “You have to look no further than Ashcroft and Logan Lake to realize what could happen.”

The loss of the clinic would affect not only Lillooet, but all the surrounding communities – Aboriginal communities, Lytton, Gold Bridge-Bralorne and Seton-Shalalth – as well.  “There would be collateral damage to all those smaller communities,” said Dickinson.

The “best-case scenario” would be for the municipality to take over the building and grounds by purchasing the site from Dr. Miller,

“Then whatever goes on inside the building is up to the doctors, whatever goes on outside is up to the District,” Dickinson continued.  “Ideally, the District would take out a mortgage, they would charge the doctors rent and that would cover the mortgage payment so it would be a revenue-neutral scenario,” she told council.

Similar challenging scenarios are playing out across the country, not just in Lillooet.

Physicians in Kamloops are retiring, noted Dickinson, “leaving tons of people without doctors. Kamloops has much more clout than we do, so we need something to draw physicians here and one of those things, I believe, would be having a place where they could come, they can work, they can leave if they want to, but it would be up to the physicians to manage the supply of physicians, and maintaining the clinic would be up to the District who would maintain the grounds and do the upkeep of the building.”

She concluded the presentation, “If we build it, they will come.”

Mayor Marg Lampman commented, “ I think I speak for council in saying that our medical centre and our hospital are paramount to the community.”

Dickinson agreed: “They are; we’re the smallest fully functioning hospital in B.C.”

Responding to a question from Councillor Barb Wiebe, Dickinson assured her that the medical equipment, the staffing, the business operation and meeting the standards set by the College of Physicians and Surgeons would all be the responsibility of the doctors at the clinic.

 “All of that would be run by the doctors,” she told council. “You would be the landlords.”

In response to another question, Dr. Humber said the Interior Health Authority does not want to “get into the business of running primary care clinics” in its facilities.

“The problem is Lillooet’s been the good child,” added Dickinson. “We’ve always rolled along, we haven’t caused the Health Authority any grief. Consequently, they don’t pay much attention to us.”

Council directed staff to prepare a report on the feasibility of purchasing the medical clinic building and grounds as outlined in the presentation.

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