December 2, 2023

More than 100,000 Nova Scotians don’t have a family doctor, and a new mobile health clinic is tasked with helping them, and others, access primary care.

Nova Scotia Health’s mobile primary care clinic is a new venture meant to address the strain on a health-care system that is leaving emergency rooms in some parts of the province beyond capacity. 

The pop-up clinics were set up in Halifax and Antigonish from Friday to Sunday, offering walk-in services like prescription refills and treatment for non-life threatening health concerns. 

“We are having a lot of access issues across the province, especially to primary care,” said Tara Sampalli, a senior scientific director with Nova Scotia Health. “And this is not only because we have so many people waiting to have access to primary care providers, but it’s also because we have staffing shortages.”

Sampalli said the idea for this type of care was in the works before post-tropical storm Fiona in September, but the first clinic was set up in Cape Breton the day after the storm. She said it was such a success that the project continued. 

The mobile primary health clinics will be continuing in other areas of the province. (Paul Leger/CBC)

Eric Coates, Nova Scotia Health’s clinical transformation director for the central health zone, said emergency departments at the IWK Health Centre and the Cobequid Community Health Centre have seen an increase of non-emergency cases in the last week, causing the need for the pop-up clinic in Halifax.

He said the demand at emergency departments is only expected to grow. So the mobile clinics will continue to go to communities with the most acute needs, and adapt to their unique circumstances.

He said planning is in the works for the next pop-ups, but no locations have been decided yet. 

Joexed Alcontin and May Tolentino tried to go to an emergency department but were referred to the mobile clinic. (Paul Leger/CBC)

Joexed Alcontin and his wife, May Tolentino, emigrated from the Philippines to Halifax a year ago. They don’t have a family doctor.

They tried to go to the Cobequid Community Health Centre to get Tolentino’s stitches removed, but were told the wait was too long. They were referred to the Halifax mobile clinic instead. 

Nurse practitioners, paramedics and public health nurses were set up in the Mumford Professional Centre, inside a Dalhousie Health Clinic that isn’t used on weekends. 

Alcontin said they were in and out in less than an hour, and were surprised how efficient and friendly the staff were. He said it seems like a good strategy to combat the doctor shortage while the province looks for a more long-term solution.

“At least they’re doing a different thing to assess the problem,” Alcontin said. “It’s not really like a direct approach but at least they have an alternative for the time being.”

Alternative to walk-in clinics

Madge MacLean also went to the Mumford pop-up location to receive a cortisone shot in her knee. She doesn’t have a family doctor and said she has been trying to get seen at a walk-in clinic for two weeks, with no luck.

“I couldn’t even get through to most places, and 10 minutes after the clinic would open, they say they were booked for the day, so I’m really not sure how that happens,” she said. “But anyway, I came over here, I didn’t have an appointment, they took me right away.”

MacLean said she feels vulnerable without a family doctor, but the mobile clinic has helped calm her fears of getting sick. 

“I think this is … a good start to help take the load off the emergency clinics,” she said. “For me, I don’t feel that I should go to an emergency room for what I wanted was a cortisone needle for help. But I’m not dying sick, so I don’t want to take that space from someone.”

Coates said the Halifax clinic saw 55 people on Friday, 69 people on Saturday, and was already seeing a steady volume halfway through the day on Sunday. 


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