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PAT CULLEN: Victoria — the town with a medical clinic but no doctors

Grant Davis, the pharmacist-owner of the Victoria Medical Centre, was driving down a Carbonear road a few months ago, the outside of his van boldly labelled with the services offered by his drugstore Davis PharmaChoice, when a woman, arms waving, flagged him down.

Thinking it was an emergency he pulled over, only to find that she was desperately looking for a doctor and wanted to know if Davis had any at his clinic.

He didn’t, still doesn’t, but this experience indicates how dire the doctor shortage is in the area. People come in, he said, “basically crying” for a family doctor and there are none to be had.

“They say, ‘I’m a cancer patient, I have different medical issues’ and I feel bad for them,” Davis said.

Those fortunate enough to have a physician sometimes have about an hour-long round trip commute to Old Perlican and Whitbourne, while others go to Conception Bay South, a two-hour drive to and from. He fears these increased travel times also increases the probability of accidents.

“Eventually someone is going to go off the road, eventually someone is going to hit a moose, it’s far from ideal at the moment.”

Sure, there are clinics in neighbouring Carbonear or Harbour Grace but Davis’ pronouncement “they’ve been under strain as well” is hard to contradict.

“We need more,” he said. “This is more.”

Grant Davis wants to establish a centre that will offer a full range of medical and medically-related services, which may, over time, include luxuries like social work. But at its very heart will be family physicians. Since January he has been trying to attract two to three of them along with a medical specialist and one to two physiotherapists.

To recruit the physicians he has taken out newspaper ads, and placed another with Practice Newfoundland and Labrador. An additional ad appeared mid-May on the website of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association and was emailed to its members, practicing physicians and those in training the following month. He has also contacted doctors and medical residents or trainees through Facebook and messaging, is working with the faculties of medicine at Memorial and Dalhousie Universities to gauge interest, particularly among residents, but has yet to meet with any real success.

He has a lot to offer. A few weeks ago, he was finishing a suite, a private office and two examining rooms complete with a desk, examination tables, examining lights, blood pressure units and scales-all at his expense. Davis wants them all, doctors, physiotherapists (he is reaching out to these through their university programs) to stay and establish full-time long-term practices. But, understandably, his focus is on doctors.

Several of the medical residents he’s been speaking with are interested and he is now talking to them regularly. He refused to go into specifics for fear of raising false hope, but stressed he was not whistling in the dark.

“There are some positive things out there. Whether or not they’ll ever materialize, I don’t know.”

He also wants a specialist at the centre. He mentions dermatology because no such specialty exists within this area, and according to an email from Eastern Health the dermatological services offered at Carbonear General Hospital is limited to “phototherapy” or exposing the skin regularly to ultraviolet light to treat some chronic skin diseases. Another email stated this treatment was also undertaken “in other parts of the region,” although it declined to say which additional places in Conception and Trinity bays offer it. So once again people from here must travel a lengthy distance, to St. John’s, if they want most dermatological treatments.

Davis is by no means limiting himself to one specialty and says the needs of the area as well as space within the centre would dictate the type of practice established. But again, providing this region with family doctors is his priority. If he could attract just one to practice at the centre right now, he would be reasonably satisfied and do whatever he could to help.

“If I had someone that was (interested) now, I would work with them. Whatever they needed, I would do my best to accommodate. So if that were contacts for real estate, I would provide contacts for that. If they wanted contacts for financing, I would do whatever I can. If they needed certain things in the building, renovations, I would do whatever I could to accommodate them. I’m doing pretty much all I can and I’m going to keep on doing so. My doors are open (and) my ears are open.”

He hasn’t ruled out trying to bring in doctors from neighbouring communities to conduct clinics but it’s not something he wants to seriously consider. Davis established a medical centre and he wants to fill it. Eastern Health, he said, knows his plans for the building but he is not in any talks for involvement with the region’s health authority. An email from Eastern Health said its vice president responsible for rural health met with Davis and toured the centre but the organization “does not have any need to lease space in the area at this time.”

Meanwhile, Victoria Mayor Barry Dooley said he would consider giving tax breaks to a physician establishing a practice there, although he gave no detail. Melissa Stickley, owner of Cabot Massage & Lymphatic Clinic, moved her business from Carbonear to the Victoria Medical Centre in July because she was impressed with the emphasis the centre placed on therapeutics.

“This building is a great opportunity for people to come (to) one place and gain different types of therapy,” she said. The Facebook page of Stickley’s clinic says she offers manual lymphatic drainage, a specialized type of massage. This may help people who suffer from lymphedema or swelling of the arms or legs, sometimes seen in those who have received cancer treatments. The centre is also home to a weight-loss clinic and of course, the pharmacy.

In an April 5 email, Eastern Health said the “urgency clinic” at Carbonear General instituted last year as a stop-gap measure to deal with the doctor shortage was still operating with no “end-date planned.” And because of its nature “there is no guarantee of ongoing care by the same physician."

A Sept. 10 email from the same organization said the evening clinics are still operating because there are not enough doctors.

Grant Davis is giving his all to attract family physicians to this area. It is time he got more help.

Pat Cullen is a journalist who lives in Carbonear. She can be reached at 596-1505 or cullen.pat1@gmail.com.

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