Initiative filling gaps in city’s health-care services

NANAIMO – Doctors aim to make programs sustainable once provincial support expires.

A push to mend health care gaps in the Harbour City has seen success, from the arrival of five new doctors to a “robust” locum program, according to Dr. Melissa Oberholster, lead physician for A GP for Me.

The Nanaimo Division of Family Practice has been engaged in A GP for Me, a $1.13-million initiative from the Ministry of Health and Doctors of B.C., to gauge local health care challenges and set out to fix them.

A survey, undertaken last year, shows 25 per cent of Nanaimo’s doctors will retire in the next three years and 30 per cent of respondents suffer from a mental illness. Eleven thousand residents are  without a family doctor.

Those with A GP for Me have already rolled out initiatives to help improve health care and while the aim has been to connect patients with doctors, it’s also gone beyond that mandate.

It’s working with 19 agencies to open the John Barsby Wellness Centre that will allow students to get check ups at schools as early as September.

It’s also been involved in the new Vancouver Island University Health and Wellness Centre, recruited five new physicians to the city and bolstered a locum program so doctors have replacements when they need time away from the office. It’s also started up a new adult mental health program for those with mild and moderate anxiety and depression.

The most exciting initative for Oberholster has been Team Enhanced Access to Mental Health Services for adults with anxiety and depression.

Mental health stood out over everything else in the community as an area with the biggest need for service, according to Oberholster, who said current programs mostly serve patients with severe and persistent mental illness, leaving a gap for those with mild and moderate anxiety and depression.

The new team, located in Caledonia Clinic, offers brief intervention that can extend into the home.

A single mother with post-postpartum depression, for example, wasn’t having energy or motivation to do much so she had a community rehabilitation worker accompany her to a StrongStart B.C. class with her baby so she could get more connected to other mothers and community programs. She also received counseling.

The program has seen 33 referrals to date and there is a possibility of it continuing into the future. Dollars for A GP for Me run out in March and the organization is currently looking at ways to make programs, like its mental health team, sustainable.