Chester to open first walk-in clinic for patients without family doctor

Clinic set to open April 6, will be available 3 days a week

People in Chester, N.S., raised $4 million to build Our Health Centre, while the province chipped in $500,000. Volunteers then offered time and services to help construct the building, which opened in November 2016. (David Laughlin/CBC)

Thanks to a community drive that has been years in the making, Chester is putting the finishing touches on its first walk-in clinic to serve people who don’t have a family doctor.

The clinic is set to open on April 6, and will be available three days a week.

“We were anxious at the beginning whether we could pull this off,” said Thelma Costello, chair of Our Health Centre, which will house the walk-in clinic.

What is Our Health Centre?

Our Health Centre (OHC) is a health-care facility that was also built by community donations. The fundraising effort began 10 years ago, and the centre opened in November 2016.

The facility houses a family practice, which is operated by the Nova Scotia Health Authority, but it’s also home to support groups, health-care education programs and a blood clinic.

The municipality recently awarded OHC a grant for $15,000 to buy equipment for the walk-in clinic.

Costello said initially, staff didn’t think the centre would need a walk-in service.

The health authority’s family practice has three doctors, a nurse practitioner and a family practice nurse, she said.

“We were hoping that the family practice complement would be sufficient to cover the people on our wait-list but it isn’t yet. So because it isn’t, we’re opening our own walk-in clinic,” said Costello.

She said officially, there are about 400 people in the Chester area on the wait-list to have a family doctor, but OHC believes there are many more who aren’t registered.

Costello said some people aren’t aware the wait-list exists, so as part of the centre’s education effort, staff will be showing patients at the walk-in clinic how to sign up.

Home to 3 physicians

The clinic will be home to three physicians. Despite the doctor shortage, Costello said finding doctors willing to help out one day a week was surprisingly easy.

“We’ve had physicians approach us over the years looking for opportunities in Chester, and as you know, at one point there was some confusion about where doctors could or couldn’t practise, whether walk-in clinics could be permitted or not permitted,” she said, referring to the Nova Scotia Health Authority’s physician resource plan.

“All that confusion, I think, caused challenges for communities and doctors, and so we had names of people we knew were interested.”

Two of the physicians are based in Chester and a third is from the Halifax area.

Up until now, people in Chester have had to commute to Tantallon or Bridgewater if they wanted to visit a walk-in clinic and the only other alternative was to go to an emergency room.

“I think it’s great,” said Kelly Slade, a Chester resident who has been without a physician for a year. “It’ll save time in emergency rooms. They can go to the clinic instead of using emerge as a walk-in clinic.”

‘It’s so much closer’

Allison Mosher also expects to use the clinic. Her physician retired about four years ago and she’s been going to Tantallon ever since.

“It’s so much closer, especially where I don’t have a vehicle,” she said. “And I think the residents of Chester will appreciate it, too.”

Costello said she hopes more physicians will come to Chester so the need will diminish.

She said they have no idea what to expect in the first few weeks. While the clinic is primarily for orphan patients — those without family doctors — staff won’t turn anyone away, Costello said.

“If we find the need is overwhelming, we may have to recruit more physicians or open more hours.”

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