As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases climbs across the province, Sunshine Coast health care organizations have poured resources into a pop-up Respiratory Assessment Clinic, through which all of the region’s symptomatic patients will be funnelled over the course of the pandemic.
“We met with the [District of Sechelt] and had it open to patients four days later,” said Dr. Jennifer Baxter, a member of the Sunshine Coast COVID Physician Task Force, and who is overseeing operations.
Open since Monday, the clinic was built with approval and support from Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), the Sechelt Hospital Foundation, Division of Family Practice, Public Health and the District of Sechelt.
The clinic’s layout is sparse. A few chairs arranged with ample space between them face a public nurse’s station at the far end of the airy room. To the left are three basic assessment rooms, equipped with two chairs, a thermometer and disinfectant. Hand sanitizer and masks are offered at the entrance, where a health care worker takes calls behind a makeshift office built with plywood and plexiglas.
The location of the clinic is being kept private and bookings must be made over the phone or through email. To prevent unnecessary visits, patients first receive phone assessments and are booked in for a physical assessment only if medically warranted. Doctors follow testing protocols set by Public Health.
Physicians will also provide home visits, but only for those most at risk – seniors and people with underlying health conditions, such as hypertension, chronic lung conditions, diabetes and heart disease.
Staffing levels at the clinic will be adjusted as needed. So far, those requiring testing have predominantly been health care workers.
Physicians have conducted 64 phone assessments and 18 people have received physical exams, Baxter told Coast Reporter, as she prepared the clinic for its third day of operations. The clinic is supposed to serve Sunshine Coast residents only, but after two days, already they have received calls from North Vancouver.
Dr. Ted Krickan, also at the clinic Wednesday morning, said it’s too soon to predict how many people will be walking through its doors in the coming weeks.
“We were expecting off the hop a lot of phone assessments just because there is a lot of anxious people and people with potentially mild symptoms and we have seen that. But we’re planning to have quite a bit of capacity,” he said.
Aside from the clinic, sweeping health care measures have been ushered into effect on the Sunshine Coast, transforming how health care is delivered. Family medicine clinics have shut their doors. Doctors now assess patients over the phone and rarely allow in-person visitations. While the emergency room at Sechelt Hospital remains open, the operating room has been reduced to emergency surgeries only, and inpatient beds have replaced recovery areas, according to the task force.
As for the availability of personal protective equipment, such as face masks, Baxter said the team is “monitoring the situation.”
“We appreciate community members contributing to a supply that we can use when and if we need it. For the time being we have a supply, but we appreciate that we can’t predict what’s coming.”
With the measures in place, the task force is continuing to urge residents practise social distancing, and to stay home except for essential tasks, even with provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s March 24 opinion that B.C. is not “on the same trajectory as Italy.”
For task force member Dr. Daren Spithoff, the duty to follow public health protocols, and the need to prepare Sunshine Coast’s health care system, are as urgent as ever.
“We’re still seeing numbers rise across the province and because of the lag time between exposure and symptoms, it’s probably going to be two or four weeks before we know whether we’ll see a true flattening of the curve… Until that point I think we’re definitely in the same mode in terms of trying to prevent the spread of infection.”
Earlier this month, the task force confirmed that there had been travel-related COVID cases in Sechelt. Based on available data, Baxter said the team cannot determine whether there is community spread on the Sunshine Coast, but using testing guidelines, they know 48 per cent of current known cases in Canada are the result of community spread. “We should assume it is happening here, too, and act accordingly.”
The respiratory assessment clinic is open seven days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and is by appointment only. Bookings can be made by calling 604-740-1252 or by emailing: email@example.com.