North Van urgent care centre still open amid COVID-19 pandemic

This article has been amended since first posting to reflect that there is no on-site lab service at the centre.

Just because there’s a pandemic underway, it doesn’t mean that arms stop being broken, or infections and burns go on hiatus.

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For those with serious but non-life-threatening ailments who still need access to medical care, the North Vancouver Urgent and Primary Care Centre has a message: the doctor is in.

While many doctors on the North Shore have adapted to the COVID-19 crisis by scheduling phone and video conferencing consultations with patients, there are some times when seeing a doctor in person is important, said Dr. Afshin Khazei, an emergency room doctor at VGH and medical director of both the downtown and North Shore urgent and primary care centres.

Khazei said that message is important, because some patients have been so dutiful about trying not to stress the health-care system that they’ve stayed home when they needed to see a doctor.

Khazei said he’s heard of patients, including one with a broken wrist and another with a nasty urinary tract infection, who’ve been reluctant to seek care.

But “no one should delay getting the health care they need because of the current circumstances,” he said.

At the very beginning of the pandemic several weeks ago, Khazei said the urgent care centre saw its daily patient count triple, from 70 to about 200 patients, as many people with suspected coronavirus came to be tested. Since then, however, the approach to testing has changed, and with fewer people being tested, patient volumes have dropped again, to below normal, said Khazei.

Unlike a typical doctor’s office, the urgent care centre has access to in-house X-rays and is open much longer hours. It’s also available for the large number of people who don’t have a family doctor.

“This is part of why we were created,” he said. “To help fill gaps in the system.”

Khazei said it’s possible some people have also been avoiding seeking care for fear of exposing themselves to COVID-19.

The urgent care centre is set up to deal with COVID-19 cases if needed, said Khazei, with protective equipment for staff. Those with flu-like symptoms are separated from others as much as possible.

Khazei said most people with mild coronavirus symptoms can just rest at home. But for those whose symptoms are getting worse or aren’t resolving, an online tool launched by the province can provide help on when to seek care.

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