SULLIVAN: Health-care system gets clever fix with North Van's Urgent and Primary Care Centre

When politicians do something smart and useful, we should praise them for it.

At the very least, it may inspire them to do it again sometime.

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Right now, for example, I’d like to jump up and applaud the province for this week’s opening of the North Vancouver Urgent and Primary Care Centre on Esplanade.

It’s a terrific idea. It occupies a place between the ER and the walk-in clinic where people can go if it’s less than an emergency and more than a walk-in and they don’t have immediate access to a family physician. Once upon a time, the family doctor made house calls but that was before indoor plumbing.

As well, it’s open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. six days a week, and 9 to 5 on Sunday, which is almost around the clock care, unless you sprain your ankle at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday.

It’s being sold as a way of relieving pressure on the Lions Gate ER, and it may well do that, but what’s really inspiring is that it seems geared to people or patients or clients or whatever we’re called. It’s not a war zone like the ER and you don’t feel like a customer at Walmart, which is how many walk-ins make you feel.

Instead, it is fully staffed by doctors and nurses and social workers, and they will communicate with your primary care provider, so it’s part of the system, not silo health care.

How good is that!?

It’s so rich with potential that I’m determined to stay positive and hold back the usual barrage of cheap shots, e.g.: What took you so long? How come it’s conveniently located in the same building as the office of Bowinn Ma, the NDP MLA for North Vancouver-Lonsdale?

The building, on Esplanade, doesn’t look all that accessible if you’re doubled over in pain or are nursing a sprained ankle (but that’s with a cursory Google review. I could be wrong. It’s happened before. Not very often.).

Have you ever tried to find a parking spot in Lower Lonsdale? You could expire first.

I could go on, but it’s better to suspend hostilities until there’s something to be hostile about. This is the best thing that has happened to North Vancouver since they opened the Mountain Highway exit lanes off the Upper Levels. Of course that was also less than a week ago. Things are looking up, kids.

When you think about it, these non-emergency clinics are the most significant development in public health care since Tommy Douglas. For so long, public health care has been dispensed by hospitals and physician gatekeepers, and have you tried to find one of those lately?

So far, there are only three of these centres in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, and 12 province-wide. They are exactly the right response to the challenges that bedevil public health, and you wonder why it has taken so long for the penny to drop.

I guess we’re still hung up on the quaint image of the kindly family doc and forget that with a few notable exceptions, that’s not a thing anymore. So we’re often left with two entry points – the ER, an exercise in epic endurance, and the walk-in, where you go when there’s nowhere else to go. This urgent and primary care centre appears to fill the gap in the best way possible – geared to deal with specific medical and psychological problems, and prepared to connect your treatment to your health records, wherever they are, making sure your latest episode does not fall between the cracks.

Of course, the centre is brand new. It’s probably a good time to get sick and try it out. I’m sure it won’t be long before everyone figures out it’s there, and the lineup goes around the block, stacked with sniffles, rashes, tummy aches and other optional ailments. But it’s a solid step in the right direction and should be encouraged.

I’ve covered health care in Canada since the dawn of anesthetic, and have been waiting for this kind of sane response to the fracturing of the system. I’ve always thought the debate between public care and privatization is unnecessarily polarizing and limiting. If we think hard enough, there’s another solution.

One that looks like the North Vancouver Urgent and Primary Care Centre.

Journalist and communications consultant Paul Sullivan has been a North Vancouver resident since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of Madonna.

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