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Medicine on the move: How mobile clinics are bringing health care to Nova Scotians in need

Finding health care has been the ultimate exercise in patchwork for Carolyn James since her doctor of 30 years closed her practice two years ago.   

“It has been catch as catch can,” said James, who’s been filling the gap in health care with visits to her local pharmacy, the emergency department and walk-in clinics.   

“Our local walk-in clinic has been doing Yeoman’s service, you can’t fault them in the least. They are just simply overwhelmed.  I like to be kind of judicious about when I use it because I don’t want to take a slot from someone who needs immediate care,” said James.

That was top of mind when James needed prescriptions refilled.  She was considering her options when she heard a mobile primary care clinic would be open at the Cobequid Community Health Centre in Sackville that weekend.  On a Saturday morning she drove from her home in Hammonds Plains to the clinic and was in and out in an hour.

“I was there for a simple thing, but he took time to ask me some questions, check my blood pressure, and ask me how I was managing my prescriptions. He simply didn’t just take the bottles and write prescriptions and say here you go.  He took time to ask and counsel around my mediations.”

Mobile primary care clinics are meant to bridge a gap in primary health care and are a temporary service under Nova Scotia’s Action for Health plan. Locations and hours vary weekly and are announced online.  More than 3,500 Nova Scotians have visited more than 40 of these clinics across the province since the first one was launched in Cape Breton after hurricane Fiona. 

“All of these are test and try.  What is important is we are looking at how Nova Scotia communities want their needs met through these clinics,” said Tara Sampalli, a senior scientific director with Nova Scotia Health. 

Data shows half of the people visiting the clinics have doctors, suggesting they were unable to get a timely appointment.  “That means the clinics are addressing the wait times and the backlogs, and are also diverting traffic from our emergency departments,” said Sampalli. 

James was so impressed with her experience that she posted about it online, though she wasn’t sure she should.  Jokingly she said, “I debated putting it on Facebook thinking maybe I want to keep it a secret for myself!”

The next morning a friend of her daughter’s reached out for more information. Haleigh Keefe’s 17-month-old son Malcom was sick, and she was dreading a long wait in the emergency department.  The family has a doctor, but it was the weekend, and the next open appointment was three weeks away. 

“It was a huge relief.  I packed up thinking I was going to be there for a couple of hours. I was there for half an hour,” said Keefe.  During that time Malcolm was weighed and measured and diagnosed with strep throat. “If there had been no primary health clinic, I would have had to sit at outpatients for God knows how long.” 

Keefe also decided to post about it on Facebook. “I think I’ve already told every parent in the province.” 

Her post reads, “I know there hasn’t been a lot of positive news lately with regards to the Nova Scotia health care system, but I can honestly say things are changing for the better. If you know me, you know I’ve had my fair share of time spent in outpatients and walk-in clinics, sometimes for 24 hours at a time for something as simple as a minor ailment. It’s nice to feel like there is some progress happening.” 

She also shared the news with her father who just moved to Nova Scotia from Alberta and is waiting for a doctor.  “I’ve got my dad going to the mobile primary care clinic in Middleton tonight.” 

Click here for the schedule and list of ailments that can be treated at mobile primary health clinics. 

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