Posted On October 27, 2016 By In Top Stories With 1758 Views

Solving the Saanich Peninsula’s Health Care Problem

by Dale Henley, Co-Chair, Saanich Peninsula Primary Health Care Society – 

“We are continually faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems”
~ Lee Iacoca, former CEO,
Chrysler Corporation.

How do you get health care services? Do you go to a walk-in clinic, or do you go to the Saanich Peninsula Hospital Emergency Room (even when you really don’t need that level of care)? How about your friends and neighbours? If you’re like me, you know many people who do these things. They may be new to the community and haven’t found a primary care physician, or like my friends and neighbours, their doctor may have retired and left them scrambling to find another.

The shortage of family physicians, and the accompanying overuse (or inappropriate use) of the Emergency Department at the Saanich Peninsula Hospital, is perhaps the most pressing healthcare problem our community faces. Up to 20,000 people in the catchment area (population 64,000) of the hospital do not have a family physician! After recognizing this we – that is, a group of community members and local doctors – decided we could do something about it. With the support of the South Island Division of Family Practice, we founded a non-profit society and got to work.

The purpose of the Saanich Peninsula Primary Healthcare Society is to improve primary health care services for residents of, and visitors to, the Saanich Peninsula by: (a) identifying the health care needs; (b) working alone or in partnership with Island Health or any other healthcare organizations, to deliver patient-centred programs to address those needs; and (c) providing medical facilities to be used for the benefit of residents and visitors.

As a first step our Society has started an exciting initiative to improve health care in the community. The goal: a new model of service delivery focused on patient-centred care, featuring a collaborative team of doctors and other healthcare professionals.

After some research, we concluded that services should be offered in a network of smaller primary healthcare centres, with one bigger “hub” building located centrally. The network will be called “Peninsula Medical, your community health network.” While the centres will be located throughout the Saanich Peninsula for the convenience of patients, they will be connected by a standard electronic medical record, to ensure a patient’s medical information is available to all providers treating them. The centres will be able to treat patients with complex care needs, but there will also be an emphasis on staying healthy.

In addition to providing care in the community, the doctors who are recruited will provide service at the Saanich Peninsula Hospital. Many of you may not know that SPH is staffed (aside from surgeons) entirely by GPs from the community. As the existing doctors in the community have aged and/or retired, the numbers of physicians with hospital privileges have dropped precipitously! Our community’s health, both in and out of hospital, depends on having doctors and other caregivers available to support our hospital.

Another feature of the network will be to offer a working environment that is appealing to physicians and other health-care providers, by being part of a supportive group practice. For example, in medical school, students learn in teams and, after graduation, look for career opportunities that allow sharing of the workload and collaboration on cases. Practitioners will also be provided the opportunity to be part of a vibrant teaching environment, through affiliation with educational institutions, such as UBC’s Island Medical Program. In discussion with leaders in the Island Medical Program, we discovered that they are looking for cutting-edge learning environments.

Where are we now? Our first Medical Centre in Sidney opened in July while undertaking renovations and introducing an integrated electronic medical record. Almost immediately, staff members were swamped with over 1,000 applications for a doctor. In the first few weeks of operation, we were thrilled to see more than 500 of these people achieve the goal of obtaining primary care, with the other applicants currently being processed and assigned to caregivers.

There have been many challenges. Because of funding limitations, only one half of the office has been renovated and no more patients (and caregivers, including doctors!) can be accommodated until the second phase of renovations is complete. Work continues with the Canada Revenue Agency to obtain charitable status and reinforce the community roots of this endeavour. In spite of these challenges, the Society is committed to building a network of primary health care centres. If you would like more information, send us an email at:



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