Medical care lacking for disadvantaged

No drop-in clinic in Cranbrook means marginalized people have no access to a physician, service providers claim

ANKORS, Street Angel and the Women’s Resource Centre are raising concerns about the lack of medical care for the disadvantaged in Cranbrook and Kimberley.

“The current condition of the health care system is failing our most marginalized citizens. The vast majority of clients who access our services are without a physician,” said Heidi Hebditch, manager of Operation Street Angel, a drop-in centre for homeless and those at risk of homelessness.

Hebditch, ANKORS coordinator Gary Dalton and Women’s Resource Centre manager Vicky Dalton presented their concerns to Cranbrook city council last month. Council agreed to refer the concerns to a special committee to recommend action for the city.

Gary Dalton said that since the beginning of the year, public health nurses no longer offer testing and treatment for HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STI). This means that people in Cranbrook who don’t have a family doctor have only two options for testing: they can see a nurse practitioner at Street Angel who is only available a few hours each week, or they can go to Emergency at the hospital.

“It is now possible through treatment to have an AIDS free generation. In order to have that treatment, you first have to identify the virus. That’s not possible if testing has been removed from our clinics,” he said.

Vicky Dalton said the problem is wider than STI and HIV testing: many of the disadvantaged in Cranbrook and Kimberley are unable to get medical attention.

“Many people have no access to medical care. It’s not just HIV and mental health issues, it’s all kinds of physical care,” she said. “It’s a dire situation in our community.”

Hebditch said she has heard from Street Angel clients that physicians sometimes conduct interviews to choose patients.

“The complex cases of HIV and multiple diagnoses – mental health, drug addictions – are not being chosen as patients. So we have clients who are losing doctors and those are clients with higher needs, clients who need ongoing medication, need treatment, and need to be seen,” she said.

“These are just more barriers for people to overcome who are already in a weakened state; they are marginalized from society.”

Gary Dalton said the three service providers have resorted to referring clients to the drop-in clinic in Nelson for medical care.

The public health unit at East Kootenay Regional Hospital does have a drop-in clinic, explained Maryann Simpson, Interior Health’s community integration administrator for the area. However, the unit is staffed by nurses, not physicians or nurse practitioners, so they are unable to write prescriptions.

“All prescriptions have to go to a physician. In Cranbrook, there is no drop-in clinic. It is the emergency department,” said Simpson.

“But pharmacists can now often prescribe so it depends on the prescription.”

The good news is that three physicians have arrived in Cranbrook in the past few months, Simpson went on.

“I do believe if you phone the Associate Clinic, people can get in. Right now, I think they are taking on new patients,” she said. “I’m happy there are physicians and openings for patients. That puts our community in a good position.”

She said that seeing a physician is the best course of action for someone seeking STI and HIV testing.