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Medical professional listening to patient heart beat

Comment: Communities provide the answer to primary health care

Original published in the Times Colonist, this is a commentary by our very own Dale Henley, a co-chair of Shoreline Medical Society.

I’m somewhat of a rarity in this part of the world — I was born on Vancouver Island and grew up on the Saanich Peninsula, which is where I have chosen both to live and work.

I learned early the importance of getting involved in my community. I began with service clubs, but soon found that I was intrigued by health care.

I joined the board of the Saanich Peninsula Hospital Foundation and began a more than 30-year volunteer career of working alongside professionals to support and fundraise for health care.

I also learned that the Saanich Peninsula, originally a small farming and fishing enclave, developed community strength early in its history. People who lived here fought for what they needed, especially health care.

When Resthaven Hospital, a rehabilitation hospital for First World War veterans, needed to be replaced, residents met with politicians, held public meetings and fought to get a modern hospital.

Their efforts were rewarded in 1974, when the Saanich Peninsula Hospital opened on Mount Newton Cross Road in Saanichton.

However, I know from examining the history of health care in Canada that, as Winston Churchill once said, “success is not final.”

Not that long after the ribbon-cutting for our new hospital, subsequent governments began to view Saanich Peninsula Hospital as a potential drain on resources, especially after centralization (in the form of regional health authorities).

On multiple occasions, our community had to fight to keep its hospital.

In the early 2000s, the executive director of our hospital foundation and the hospital’s chief of staff recognized, and then sounded the warning bells, that the pending retirement of local physicians could potentially cripple health care on the Peninsula. And not just care in the community, but at our hospital, too.

Saanich Peninsula Hospital has no hospitalists (doctors contracted by the health authority to work in a hospital on a full-time basis) — it is a “rural” model hospital, and community physicians provide care to admitted patients.

Starting in 2005, hospital foundation board members were introduced to the ideas developing in other parts of Canada to assist in the recruitment and retention of physicians — primary health care centres, incentives for physicians, and the integration of allied health care workers to support community health care.

We also learned that our provincial government (not just the current one, I must add) sometimes either did not see the need to help or understand how best to provide it.

In 2015, a group of concerned citizens and medical professionals founded Shoreline Medical Society, a non-profit and fully accredited charity. Its purpose was to recruit physicians and ensure all Saanich Peninsula residents had access to a family doctor.

I felt that this work could be the most important on the peninsula since the opening of SPH, so I joined the board of Shoreline Medical Society.

Our board, which is comprised of both community members and health professionals, came together with some innovative physicians who were working simultaneously, but separately, on a similar idea.

Our first site opened in Sidney in 2016. There have been lots of challenges, particularly financial, and we are grateful to the Town of Sidney, the Saanich Peninsula Hospital and Healthcare Foundation, and a select group of donors for help to get established and ensure that we would never need to limit accessibility to care by charging patients additional fees.

Since 2016, we have grown from five founding physicians to 25, expanded facilities in Sidney and opened a second location in Brentwood Bay. We have found physicians for more than 10,000 residents of the Saanich Peninsula, have a total patient panel of 18,000 and have worked diligently with the new Primary Care Network infrastructure to incorporate allied health workers.

However, our work will not be complete until there are no residents of the Saanich Peninsula who do not have access to a family doctor.

All of us at Shoreline Medical Society believe deeply in the concept of universal Medicare, but it is a constant work in progress to maintain Shoreline’s financial viability.

But, we will never charge patients “membership fees” or “continuity fees” in order to access care.

We’d like to hear more from politicians than just words of support. For Canadians, universal Medicare has made health care more accessible and helped to reduce inequities in our society.

It now needs both commitment and investment as well as innovative thinking. We community members will continue to work for the people who are closest to us, our fellow Peninsula residents.

But we are looking for that same commitment, strategic planning and effective forward-looking action from those who are responsible for governing our province and country.


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Ryan Liebscher

family physician

Dr Ryan Liebscher grew up and lived in Victoria before moving out east to pursue undergraduate work in microbiology in Halifax. He went on to medical school at the University of Saskatchewan where he met his wife and endured a few cold winters. They went on to Prince George to complete residency training in Family Medicine and then Ryan undertook a year of added competency training in palliative care through UBC. 

They settled on the Peninsula in 2009 to start a family. After completing his training, he worked as a locum in family practice and as a Palliative Care physician at Victoria Hospice for 4 years until settling into his own family practice in Brentwood Bay in 2014. He continues to work with the Saanich Peninsula palliative care consultation team and feels very strongly about supporting a palliative approach to care for patients in need. His other interests include meditation, Tai Chi, mindfulness, and active healthy living.

He feels grateful to work with Shoreline Medical and the wonderful team here at Brentwood Bay.

Andrew Kwasnica

family physician

Dr. Andrew Kwasnica grew up in Cordova Bay and is delighted to be able to practice medicine on the Saanich Peninsula. He has a strong interest in preventive medicine and personal health management, and invites his patients to engage fully and take charge of their own health, through careful attention to risk reduction, diet and exercise, weight management, and judicious use of pharmacologic and interventional approaches to medical conditions. His other areas of focus include internal medicine, palliative care and mental health. He is a self-professed exercise and nutrition fanatic (and dog lover), and you’ll find him on the courts, trails and slopes with his young family.

“An apple a day does not keep the doctor away, but it does improve your colonic health!”
– Dr. Kwasnica

Andrea Lewis

family physician & board member, Shoreline Sidney

Dr Andrea Lewis was born and raised in Vancouver. She spent many years at UBC, but still found time to satisfy her enthusiasm for adventure with travels to Africa and Australia. Her love of the outdoors enticed her to Newfoundland where she completed her Residency in Family Medicine and where she met her husband. Together they have raised 2 beautiful daughters and in 2014, they spent 6 months in Vanuatu providing medical care to the populace of the remote tropical Island. 

Dr Lewis has been involved in the establishment of the South Island Division of Family Practice and the Shoreline Medical Society, both of which have been very rewarding processes. She feels honoured to act as the Medical Director of Shoreline Medical Sidney and looks forward to being a part of the development of a new approach to Family Medicine.  

Sienna Bourdon

Dr. Sienna Bourdon grew up on Vancouver Island in Black Creek. She received an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry from UVic and a Medical Degree from UBC’s Island Medical Program. After completing her Family Medicine (CCFP)  training through Western University, Dr. Bourdon worked 1 year in Ontario doing inpatient hospital care, clinics, teaching and family practice locums. She moved back home to BC in the fall of 2014 and set up her own practice at Bayside Medical Centre in May 2015. Since that time she has been doing Family Medicine, walk in clinic, inpatient care and Emergency Medicine shifts at SPH. She is also very involved in leadership in the community and at the hospital. She has a keen interest in teaching and has a faculty appointment at UBC.
Dr. Bourdon is excited to be moving her practice to Shoreline Medical, Brentwood Bay. She places an emphasis on preventative medicine, optimizing the lifestyles of her patients to maintain health and prevent disease. Dr. Bourdon practices full-service, comprehensive Family Medicine, offering a wide range of services, and expects her patients to be active participants in managing their health.
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