Supporting Team Excellence with Patients Society (STEPS), a regional non-profit, officially took over Sun Peaks Community Health Centre (SPCHC) operations on April 1.
During a meeting on March 21, Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality (SPMRM) councillors authorized Shane Bourke, SPMRM chief administrative officer (CAO), to finalize the lease agreement between the health centre and STEPS. The transition is intended to improve residents’ access to doctors and reduce the municipality’s costs and administrative responsibilities.
The terms of the agreement allow STEPS to lease the building’s medical space. Base rental costs will be waived for the next two years.
The tri-collaboration agreement was approved in the fall between STEPS, the municipality and Sun Peaks Health Association, a municipal association that fundraises for the facility and previously managed the health centre.
Mayor Al Raine told SPIN the agreement will make getting care easier for people in the region.
“My hope is that the services are improved … There are a large number of people from the Kamloops area who are registered at the Sun Peaks clinic. Hopefully, some of them will be able to [access STEPS] clinics in Kamloops, which would open up more spaces in Sun Peaks,” he said.
When asked if the transition would result in fuller services at the clinic, Raine said there’s potential to increase the facility’s hours. The health centre is only open seven days a week during the winter season and closes its doors on weekends for the rest of the year. Raine said more visitors are needed throughout the shoulder seasons and summer months to make increased clinic hours feasible.
In an email to SPIN, STEPS CEO Christine Matuschewski said the organization will send a notice to SPCHC patients in May informing them they will have access to urgent care in multiple locations. She also wrote that physicians are currently at capacity for new patients but that recruitment efforts are ongoing.
Sun Peaks Health Association (SPHA) member and former SPMRM councillor Mario Pozza told SPIN the cost of running the clinic before the transition meant physicians needed to contribute a percentage of their earnings to overhead costs, including medication and bandages, as well as staffing. These costs led to a funding crunch and concerns from SPHA about recruiting new physicians when running a deficit.
In recent years, the province has opened primary care centres and provided funding for their operations. However, Raine and Pozza told SPIN the population size on the mountain meant SPCHC couldn’t qualify, but Kamloops-based STEPS did.
“STEPS [will] take over the administration because they are getting funding … and we’re in a better situation because they have a much larger pool of doctors … in the event that we need somebody [to fill in], we might be able to get a doctor up here,” Pozza explained.
Raine said grants and patient billing over the last two years ensured the health centre covered its costs without needing subsidization by the municipality.
Before partnering with STEPS, Pozza explained the Sun Peaks Community Health Centre applied for funding annually through the British Columbia Association of Community Health Centres to cover deficit costs.
“You didn’t know if you were going to get that money. That put us in a very tenuous position [wondering] who was going to pick up the tab. In the past, the municipality has, but that’s not what municipal tax dollars are supposed to be going to,” Pozza told SPIN.
Moving forward, the STEPS partnership will eliminate municipal costs. SPHA will transition to focus more on fundraising for medical equipment and an association member will sit on the STEPS board as an ex-officio.
“Hopefully [STEPS taking over] gives us more security. It gives us some [financial] assurance that we can go forward and in doing so, that may make it easier to try to recruit doctors,” Pozza said.