Sidney backs new non-profit medical centre

Town loans care society $192,000 to help local patients get a doctor.

Dr. Elizabeth Rhoades and Dale Henley

A new model of health care delivery has won the financial support of the Town of Sidney, which hopes their backing will help people find a doctor.

On Tuesday, Mayor Steve Price officially presented a loan of $192,000 on behalf of the municipality to the Saanich Peninsula Health Care Society. The non-profit primary care organization recently took over a medical clinic on Bevan Avenue, added physicians and put out a call for new patients. The move attracted more than 2,000 applicants, says Society co-chair Dale Henley.

Of those, Henley said around 1,000 people were taken in to the new medical centre before applications were closed. The money from the Town, he said, will help them complete renovations in the 3,300 square-foot centre and allow them to begin another patient intake in the new year.

The Town’s loan indicates the municipality’s support for getting new doctors in Sidney and the Saanich Peninsula, added Dr. Elizabeth Rhoades, the Society’s other co-chair.

“We can’t thank the Town enough for its help and supporting the vision,” Henley added.

The organization currently has registered as a non-profit with the B.C. government and has applied for society status with the federal government. Rhoades said they are not funded through Island Health or the province and having status as a society will give them access to more avenues of funding.

The society-run medical centre in Sidney currently has eight doctors on staff — five working in the centre and three who operate a walk-in clinic. Henley said they kept an existing walk-in medical clinic open for the time being to help transition patients to new family doctors.

The Saanich Peninsula Health Care Society has its beginning in the province’s GP For Me program, which aimed to get more people who do not have family doctors, access to one. Rhoades said it was seed money from that program that led to the creation of the Society. Support from the Saanich Peninsula Hospital Foundation and Saanich Peninsula Division of Family Practice was also vital in establishing a six-person board — three doctors and three community members — to run the Society.

The non-profit organization is the administrative wing — handing office and business roles, freeing up doctors — who do contribute to the financial bottom line of the centre as well — to practice medicine both at the centre in Sidney and at the Saanich Peninsula Hospital. It’s a model, Rhoades said, that’s trying to accommodate younger doctors who are looking for a different work-life balance than their predecessors, many of whom are looking at retirement.

The Sidney medical centre is the first in what Rhoades said could be a collection of similar centres on the Peninsula. The Society has long-term plans for additional centres, expanding the services they offer to find more doctors for more people who currently do not have one. To that end, she said the Society has accepted only Saanich Peninsula residents as new patients at the centre, fulfilling their mandate in the area.

At their Sidney centre, Rhoades said patients are able to see a family physician in an acute care setting.

They will be able, following renovations, to offer certain medical testing and have plans to add a nurse practitioner. It’s a model, she said, that exists in places like Ontario and could be adopted elsewhere on the Island in communities where people do not have access to a family doctor.

The loan from the Town, Henley said, will be repaid. His estimate right now, under their current non-profit status with the province, if four to five years to pay it back.

If the Society is successful in achieving charitable status with Ottawa, Henley said repayment could happen much faster.