BONNYVILLE – “We hear you,” reads the first line of a public notice shared by the Bonnyville Medical Clinic.
The statement references community members’ frustrations of not being able to access the Bonnyville walk-in clinic due to high volumes of patients seeking medical attention.
The letter to the public also reflects an ongoing reality – the region has too few physicians to meet patients' needs.
“What sparked the idea to release a statement is patients are very frustrated,” Gerri Abraham, the clinic manager with the Bonnyville Medical Clinic, told Lakeland This Week.
“Every day we fill up the walk-in clinic for the whole day within 15 minutes.”
On Nov. 18, the clinic’s staff were unable to make any walk-in appointments over the phone because the lineup of patients waiting outside the clinic prior to the doors being unlocked at 8 a.m. filled every available time slot for the walk-in clinic that day.
In the notice shared online, some of the challenges faced by frontline healthcare administration and receptionists were listed. The first statement read, “Our reality: Our physicians can see 20 to 40 patients (double booked 15-minute increments) each in order to be done by the time we close at 4:30 p.m., most days they don't even get time to eat lunch.”
Each day, the Bonnyville Medical Clinic has one physician designated to see all the walk-in patients. On rare occasions, the clinic may have two doctors available for walk-in patients.
Abraham says the volume of patients seeking walk-in appointments at the clinic has noticeably increased since COVID restrictions were lifted.
Patients have a wide range of reasons for using the walk-in clinic, whether it is related to illness or injury, or patients seeking refills for prescriptions or referrals.
Another reason behind the increased demand for walk-in services may be related to long wait times to see family healthcare providers. Most of the Bonnyville clinic’s family doctors are booked solid with patient appointments until January, says Abraham.
For patients that are sick now, their only option is to try and get an appointment at the walk-in clinic or wait to be seen by a physician in the emergency department.
“What we wish is that we had more doctors every day who could see patients in walk-in, but with their family practice and many other responsibilities they are simply unavailable,” continued the clinic’s online statement.
Abraham says the receptionists and administration are feeling the brunt of the frustrations being expressed by patients, especially by those who are unable to book an appointment due to limited resources.
“It’s not that we are deliberately turning them away, it’s just that there is no capacity,” acknowledged the clinic manager.
Abraham says it takes a toll on staff to see people frustrated and upset after being turned away, noting it adds to the burnout being experienced by many frontline health care workers.
It has also created a culture of increased verbal abuse from patients towards clinic staff – a problem that she says has grown over the last year.
Frustration directed at medical personnel has been identified as a worsening problem around the province.
In October, Alberta Health Services (AHS) reported that patient-to-worker harassment or violence toward healthcare workers has increased over the last few months.
RELATED STORY: AHS reports increase in harassment toward healthcare workers
“We haven't had any really bad instances [of abuse from patients] for quite a while. But we do ban people from the clinic because we don't tolerate any abuse of our staff,” stated the clinic manager.
Even with long wait times to see physicians, Abraham hopes the statement shared by the medical clinic will encourage compassion and empathy towards staff who are working tirelessly to assist patients.
The Bonnyville walk-in clinic also sees a significant portion of its patients travelling from outside the Bonnyville area to access health care at the clinic.
This includes residents from Elk Point, St. Paul, surrounding First Nation communities and Métis Settlements, and a large portion of residents coming from Cold Lake, says Abraham.
Simply put, “We need more access for our patients, which probably would mean more physicians,” according to Abraham.