An idea hatched among family physicians, mental health workers and a psychiatrist in Kamloops has grown into a full-fledged health centre that targets people with mental illness and addictions.
Interior Health celebrated more than six months of operation Tuesday for its King Street clinic that’s helped 700 people with no access to a family physician, many of whom harbour deep fears of hospitals and doctors’ offices.
Dr. Kurt Buller, a psychiatrist in Kamloops, said he’s practiced here for 16 years and witnessed difficulty for his patients in getting primary care.
Many of them suffer from diabetes, heart disease or asthma, for example. The chronic conditions get worse, resulting in hospitalization and even death in some cases, if they cannot get medical help.
Brian Thorn was one of those people. The patient of the King Street clinic stood up in front of mental health workers, health administrators, doctors and reporters during the afternoon event to tell his story about getting help.
“I had a leg that wasn’t operating right,” said Thorn, who has struggled eight years with mental illness, including depression, and has a fear of hospitals.
“I ended up living in my car.”
Thorn eventually went to ASK Wellness and was set up with doctor, who diagnosed a blood clot.
“I could come here and they would have a smile for me and treat me like somebody, rather than a bum living in his car.”
Thorn is one of the success stories for the clinic. About 20 doctors rotate part-time through the clinic. They are paid on a hybrid basis, taking into account time spent with patients will be longer than fee-for-service in their regular practice.
The clinic, furnished to look like a home, is also host to mental health and addictions workers, street nurses, pharmacy and counsellors for complex disease.
Dr. Shirley Sze, physician lead with Thompson division of family practice in Kamloops, said the belief is the clinic will help prevent those with mental illness and complex disease from ending up in emergency and admitted to Royal Inland Hospital.
“If they have regular access, they’re less likely to get into regular problems,” said the long-time family doctor. “That’s not something you can measure in six months.”
Dr. Buller said the clinic is being looked at as an innovative example of serving people with special needs.
“The whole province is interested as far as I can tell.”