A Cache Creek resident is raising concerns about physician coverage after being told she is no longer a patient at the Ashcroft Family Medical Clinic following the departure of her doctor.
Leah Ferguson made sure she was signed up with a physician at the clinic — Dr. Abayomi Adetola — before moving to Cache Creek from Victoria early last year. On July 29, 2021 — after a mixture of in-person and virtual visits — Adetola told Ferguson during an in-person appointment that he was leaving the practice.
“He was treating me for something very critical and doing a referral to the neurological department in Kamloops,” says Ferguson. “He knew my case was serious and reassured me that ‘The new doctor will be your doctor.’ I asked him if I needed to do something, and he said ‘No.’
“When I left I said to the two ladies at the front desk ‘Do I have to do something about a new doctor’ and they said no; I just had to call in September to make an appointment with the new doctor.”
Ferguson continued to wait for a call from the neurological department, and on Sept. 23 called the Ashcroft clinic and asked for an appointment with the new doctor.
“I was told he was not taking new patients. I said ‘I’m not a new patient,’ and she said it doesn’t matter.
“I have a horrifying condition and I told her that. She said ‘I don’t know what to say, the new doctor is not taking new patients.’ I asked what I could do, and she said ‘Write to the surgeon general.’”
What makes it even more concerning for Ferguson is the fact that her mother called the clinic shortly after and received a very different answer.
“She was offered her choice of doctors the day after I was told there were no doctors.”
Ferguson also discovered that the Ashcroft Family Medical Practice is not operated by Interior Health: it is a private business operated by the physicians. “It is a company, and we are customers.”
When the Journal called the clinic on Oct. 7, we were told that the two physicians at the clinic were not accepting new patients; instead, people looking for a physician could put their name on a waiting list. This contradicted information given to a local health care planning table, which was told on Oct. 6 that new patients were being accepted.
The Journal sought clarification with Interior Health. On Oct. 8, a spokesperson said that Interior Health met with the physicians on Oct. 7 and was informed that the physicians will see patients whose doctor has left the community or who have urgent prescription or lab needs.
“The current clinic physicians will see those patients to see that prescriptions are filled,” the spokesperson said. “Patients not needing an emergent service, including new patients, will be added to a list and be brought on to the new rosters as appointments allow.
“Interior Health is actively working with the physicians and the Division of Family Practice to examine the primary care needs in the community to avoid ongoing changes between doctors such as we’ve recently experienced in the community.”
For the last several years the clinic has been staffed exclusively with physicians who have taken part in the Practice Ready Assessment program, which “fast tracks” physicians from other countries who want to practice in B.C. They must commit to three years in a rural community once they have successfully completed the program, but despite at least two doctors telling the Journal that they plan to make the area their permanent home, all have left shortly after their three-year term has ended. In one recent instance, a physician left after only one year, citing lack of patients.
Ferguson feels that local residents are just “guinea pigs” for doctors coming here to get citizenship. “We’re just customers. I called Dr. Adetola’s office in Kamloops twice and said I need to have that referral, but I haven’t heard back, so it’s in limbo. Without a referral I can’t see a specialist, so I’m stuck with no doctor and no specialist.”
Ferguson says she was not told about the option to go on a waiting list, adding that she is now looking for a physician in Merritt or Kamloops, as she does not trust the Ashcroft clinic. “They became quite uninterested in me, and told me I could write a letter. I said ‘You guys told me to call in September’ and she said ‘The doctors are not taking patients.’”
Ferguson has contacted the B.C. Ombudsperson and filed a complaint detailing her concerns, and is looking at other legal options. She has also started a petition at Change.org, “Give Us Access To Government Healthcare Ashcroft/Cache Creek/Clinton”, and is hoping that area residents will sign it. The petition asks for a government-operated medical clinic in Ashcroft, to replace the privately-operated one.
“I was a patient at that clinic, and in my opinion I still am,” says Ferguson. “I retired here, and I’m here to stay. People say ‘Live in city.’ I have, but it’s not fair to tell me to move to somewhere unaffordable for medical care. Most of my life I’ve had no complaints about Canadian medical care; it’s amazing. After this, though, I was in shock. This clinic can do whatever they want with their customers.
“I thought it was one doctor out, and the new one takes over patients. The doctors leave every couple of years, and the switchover leaves the community in chaos every single time.”