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Doctors are set to close up shop at the Chetwynd Centre Medical Clinic June 26, and moving into a new primary care clinic operated by Northern Health opening up July 2, officials confirm.

In an interview, Northern Health Chief Operating Officer Angela De Smit says the clinic will open next week with just one permanent doctor, but that new doctors are expected to join throughout the summer and into next year.

Dr. Anton Venter will be the only permanent doctor to help open the clinic as three other doctors make their exit from the community.

De Smit says Northern Health will have a locum doctor on hand to help with the opening from July 2 to 17, and hopes to see Dr. Rafal Banas join the clinic on July 18, after finishing his residency in Fort St. John.

Another two nurse practitioners are expected to join the clinic on a temporary basis over the summer months, according to De Smit.

Clinic will be run by Northern Health, provide ‘income guarantee’ to doctors

The clinic will be operated and managed by Northern Health, with doctors working under a new income guarantee compensation system instead of the usual fee for service practice.

De Smit hopes that will allow for significant progress in resolving the community’s medical service shortage. It’s a similar program that was used in Fort St. James that has proven successful, De Smit says.

“The District of Chetwynd has been very positive and progressive in terms of what they can do to help recruit physicians,” said De Smit.

“One was the building and construction of the new clinic, a very good drawing card for physicians coming to that community.

“The funding model that we’re using in Chetwynd is similar to what Northern Health Authority used in Fort St. James, and they’ve now recruited six physicians,” she said.

Dr. Johannes De Jager was expected to rejoin the doctor roster with the opening of the new clinic, however, has since committed elsewhere due to concerns over workloads, De Smit confirmed.

Recruitment ongoing, international doctor to join cast in February

Northern Health is currently advertising for three full-time doctors for Chetwynd to bring the town’s complement to five.

It expects to have at least one internationally trained doctor begin their practice readiness assessment exams in September, and, if successful, that doctor would begin practicing in the community in February 2016 on a three-year contract, De Smit said.

“We’re continuing to recruit locums that can help with the medical services until we’re able to successfully recruit at least at minimum of two physicians,” De Smit said.

A pair of recruiters — including Charlene Thomas, who was hired with the help of a $100,000 funding commitment by the Peace River Regional District — were in Penticton in spring, according to De Smit.

There, some 15 doctors had expressed interest in working in Chetwynd, according to De Smit.

“Some of them were quite interested in doing locum work in Chetwynd, and seeing what the community has to offer, the types of services that are provided, with the prospect of then signing on permanently,” said De Smit.

“We hope the combination of the clinic, the community, the type of work they’re doing and the compensation model will attract physicians to the community.”

New clinic model could carry into Fort St. John

The income guarantee compensation model sounds like it could also gain traction in Fort St. John in the very near future.

Under the model, doctors are paid a set salary, that takes into consideration the overheads cost for Northern Health to run the clinic, without doctors having to pay and manage those costs directly.

“The large benefit for the income guarantee model is it allows them to come and practice medicine without having to worry about starting up their own business, or joining a practice, and then having to be concerned about doing the management and operations of the clinic,” said De Smit.

“We can maximize the time that physicians are able to spend with patients doing the work that physicians like to do.”

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