Northern Health releases draft Master Plan for clinic

Trent Ernst, Editor


After nearly two years of waiting, Northern Health has released a draft Master Plan for the Tumbler Ridge Medical Clinic.

The draft Master Plan addresses the “bricks and mortar” aspect of the Clinic, and not staffing, though visitation rates do play a role in determining the future of the clinic, says Jaret Clay, Health Services Administrator for the South Peace for Northern Health.

“What we are looking at here is bricks and mortar, not how many staff,” he says. “As we are building our space, we need to take into account how are people going to function in that space. As time goes by, how people perform their functions will change and I can’t guess how many people a nurse will be able to serve in the future. It’s easier for us to look at how much space we will need to perform the function, because some things change that will require us to get more invasive, and some things may require us to get less invasive. Technology has a big role to play in that.”

He says the first concern is entering the building and way finding. He says that, right now, when people walk into the clinic from the front, they are confronted with hallways extending ahead and to the left. While it isn’t a large space, it isn’t well used. “How would we redesign this if we wanted to meet issues like confidentiality, the lack of space in lab, or the fact that emergency is disconnected from where the physician are? We want to make better use of those areas.”

Clay says that, while the space might have been utilized properly thirty years ago, things have changed, and the space is now poorly organized. “There are other issues like traffic flow and infection control issues and promoting independent supply delivery so that deliveries don’t have to go through the entire clinic.”

Clay says that any changes that happen now need to factor in what the community’s needs will be in the future. In order to do that, he says, Northern Health had to chart out Tumbler Ridge’s potential population growth, which was the single hardest part of creating the master plan. “The mining industry is coming in and growth projections are complicated by camps, wind energy and other industries where’re you have a hard time laying a finger on what the growth is.”

Already, he says, the population growth charts are off. The estimates were for close to 5100 people in town already, but with Teck holding off on re-opening Quintette, the numbers are probably already lower. Still, he says, the issue is not the exact date, but that “we build it so we can reach capacity when it comes on stream.”

And in twenty years, Northern Health estimates the population of Tumbler Ridge will be between 8000 and 9000 people.

By calculating the number of people who will need to use that space, Clay says, they are able to calculate how much space each aspect of the clinic will need in the future. He says they’ve crunched the numbers and, with their population estimates, the clinic will need seven percent more space than it has to meet needs into 2035. This, says Clay, is a very small number and will not require any new space to be added to the clinic. “There’s not many inner walls in that facility that will still be there in twenty years,” says Clay, “But the size is pretty good. The way the building is laid out is wrong. It requires a full reno.”

If people are hoping to get a sense of what the new clinic will look like now, Clay says they’re going to be disappointed. “We haven’t gone to a schematic yet,” he says. “We’re just looking for approval on this.”

Right now health care is moving toward shared spaces and moving towards a team based primary health care model, says Clay. Over the next few years, he says, he expects the nature of health care to change radically. “We know we’re not going to care for everyone in the centre. We want people to stay at home while they age.”

This will probably mean more work for home care nurses, and fewer trips to the clinic for older patients. He says that many places are too big to move to this style of care, but Northern Health, while covering a large area, is able to do because there’s not that many people.

“Tumbler Ridge is already moving down that path with nurses working out of emergency, but also dealing with mental health and home care,” says Clay. “We went from having empty lines for nurses to filling those lines by making those changes. It’s not perfect, but we have far better problems now than we had even a few months ago.”

When will Tumbler Ridge see its newly renovated clinic? Again, Clay says there’s no specific timeline associated with it, and there’s a lot of steps that still need to happen, like getting approval for the plan from both the community and the Northern Health board.