The closure of the Parsons Clinic in Red Deer on June 29 will leave some people scrambling for a family doctor.
Parsons has 11 family doctors but only seven of them — five full-time and two part-time — are moving to practise at the new Piper Creek Medical Clinic opening July 2 in a new commercial building, 32nd Street Crossing, at 3215 49th Ave.
Parsons doctors Betty Cowie, Nellie Radomsky, both part-time doctors, and full-time doctors Michael Thain and Donald Tillier are retiring. Dr. Jennifer Corrales, a full-time doctor, is relocating to Cochrane.
Dr. Peter Bouch, one of the Parsons doctors moving to Piper Creek, said Piper Creek doctors will take on some of the patients with chronic conditions or multiple diseases from doctors who are leaving.
“We tried to accommodate those people for sure. All of us took on quite a few extra people. You can’t take on too many or all the patients will just be waiting a long time to see you,” Bouch said on Monday.
“There are going to be a lot of people out there who are going to have to try and find new doctors.”
But four or five doctors should be coming to Red Deer to work at two new walk-in clinics, one that plans to open near Piper Creek Medical Clinic and one near Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, and hopefully they won’t be strictly walk-ins, he said.
“A lot of the walk-in clinics have gone to booked appointments as well as walk-ins.”
He said some walk-ins made the switch to offer better medicine. It’s more satisfying for both doctors and patients, especially the elderly who can’t sit for hours waiting for a doctor.
Red Deer has 78 family doctors, including traditional family doctors and walk-in doctors.
Piper Creek Medical Clinic has room for eight doctors and there has been interest from doctors to join.
“Red Deer is a good place to practise. I don’t think we have real problems attracting physicians, it’s just getting the right kind of physicians,” Bouch said.
Dr. Jake Bromley, a family doctor at Associate Medical Group, said it can be frightening for people losing a family doctor.
“I see several people every day asking me if I’ll be their doctor. That’s happening to all of us still in active practice,” Bromley said.
He said losing family doctors is not unique to Red Deer but is becoming a bigger problem. Parsons’ closure has brought the issue to the forefront because the city is losing doctors who have practised for decades and have many patients.
The Parsons Clinic dates back to 1944.
Both Bouch and Bromley said the generation of doctors practising full-spectrum family medicine, who visit patients in hospital and deliver babies, is aging.
There’s a limit to how many patients existing family doctors can manage, “even though you feel great sympathy for their predicaments,” said Bromley, who has practised in Red Deer for almost 19 years at Associate Medical Group.
Viggo Nielsen, president of the Central Alberta Council on Aging, said the council hasn’t discussed the impact that changes to family medicine will have on seniors.
But Nielsen said he will soon rely on a walk-in clinic because his doctor is retiring from Parsons Clinic.
“I understand at walk-in clinics you can ask for a specific doctor. If we find a doctor we really like, we’ll simply ask for that doctor,” said Nielsen.
But losing a family doctor will be difficult for many people, said Nielsen, who has had the same family doctor for about 25 years.
“(A family doctor) becomes as much a friend as he is a doctor.”
Retiring doctors at the Parsons Clinic have informed patients in search of new doctors to contact the Red Deer Primary Care Network at www.reddeerpcn.com or the College of Physicians and Surgeons at www.cpsa.ab.ca. Some doctors have told patients they may need to rely on walk-in clinics in the interim.
Physician recruitment and retention efforts actively involve the local community, physicians and clinics, and Alberta Health Services.