A walk-in medical clinic in Victoria has closed its doors after two of its physicians decided to stop practicing longitudinal family medicine in the city.
The Eagle Creek Medical Clinic announced the closure after Dr. George Zabakolas and Dr. Chelsie Velikovsky confirmed they would not book new appoints at the clinic after April 15.
“Our careers are taking a different pathway, thereby we will no longer be your family physician,” reads a Jan. 10 letter to the couple’s patients. “We understand this leaves you in a difficult situation, for this we are deeply sorry.”
In a subsequent post on its website, the clinic said it was “barely functional” before the doctors’ departure announcement, due to local physician shortages, and it could not “possibly handle the influx of 3,000 newly-orphaned patients.”
The clinic will attempt to refill the positions but does not anticipate success. It plans to close walk-in services on April 15, while switching to an “in-house ‘doctor of the day’ program.”
In an interview with Global News, Velikovsky and Zabakolas said it was a “really difficult decision” to end their Victoria-based practice, but the strain and demand on the Canadian health-care system was taking a toll on them.
They had about 1,500 patients each while looking after their two young children and said, “we have to take care of ourselves so that we can take care of people too.”
“We really want our patients to feel like we are doing the best we can for them and I would say almost immediately from switching to the Canadian health-care system, we noticed it’s a challenge up here,” Velikovsky explained.
“We really want to make it work and we tried and we feel we’ve exhausted ourselves to try to make it work and it’s just not.”
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Velikovsky and Zabakolas did their medical training in the United States and have dual certification. Zabakolas practiced private medicine in the U.S. while Velikovsky completed her residency.
They moved to Victoria — where Velikovsky grew up — three years ago and opened a practice at Eagle Creek Medical Clinic.
“Our goal is still to live in Victoria, it’s beautiful here, we love it here, but maybe change medicine differently for us a little bit,” said Zabakolas. “We’re not sure what that looks like, because we’re hashing things out.”
They may offer consultation services for U.S. patients remotely, he added.
Velikovsky said she and her husband worked Mondays at the Eagle Creek clinic. The clinic has other working physicians, she added, but there has always been a shortage, “just like everywhere else.”
“We know and we fully understand, and we really feel the weight of us leaving our practice and leaving our patients, and knowing they’re not going to be able to get that longitudinal care elsewhere that we know is really important,” she said.
“People deserve good care,” added Zabakolas. “To our patients, thank you for trusting us, it’s a privilege and honour to take care of you and your family.”
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In a written statement to Global News, the B.C. Ministry of Health said its priority is to ensure every resident receives the care “they need and deserve,” and it’s confident its “transformational” primary care strategy will provide sustainable solutions.
“We know it can be stress for patients when a clinic closes, or they lose access to primary care,” said the department.
“The province’s team-based primary care strategy will continue to see teams of primary care providers working together in a variety of clinical models, such as full-service family practices, urgent and primary care centres … community health centres, nurse practitioner-led clinics and First Nations primary care centres.”
That department has committed to establishing 85 new primary care networks, 40 urgent and primary care centres, several community health centres, and up to 15 First Nations primary care centres in the coming years.
Meanwhile, Velikovsky and Zabakolas said they will try to place their “high needs patients” with other physicians before their departure.
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