Pine Free clinic soon won’t be free

Kitsilano clinic's nursing, counselling and front desk services phasing out starting in May

Messages such as “did you hear that your favourite clinic Pine Free is closing?” and “fight the power!” fill the chalkboard in the Pine Free Clinic waiting room.

But it turns out the situation is more complicated than whether the clinic is closing.

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Vancouver Coastal Health told the Courier that starting in May, non-physician services will be transitioned out of Pine Free. This means that nursing, counselling, or front desk services will no longer be available at Pine Free once the transition is completed.

Physicians may continue working at Pine Free, but they will have to transition to a fee-for-service model in order to stay at the clinic.

“We will know within the next month whether physicians at the clinic want to transition to fee-for-service,” said Dr. David Hall, medical director at Vancouver Coastal Health.

Changing to a fee-for-service model will essentially make the clinic inaccessible to patients who do not have health insurance. Pine Free has been known for providing services to youth and individuals without health insurance for over 40 years.

In short, the clinic, in its current form, is indeed closing.

At a time when one in every six Vancouverites does not have a family doctor, walk-in clinics like Pine Free are important resources for vulnerable communities. 

Twenty-three year old Bryan LaRochelle has lived in Vancouver all his life and was outraged when clinic staff told him that the clinic was going to be shut down.

“I have had some much needed help from the Pine Free. I just want to make sure that our future generations are safe and have similar advantages to what I had when I was stuck,” he said.

LaRochelle started a petition on Change.org, demanding that Vancouver Coastal Health provide more information about the decision to close Pine Free. He worries that because many of the health services that Pine Free provides address stigmatized issues like STIs and pregnancies, patients may be afraid to speak up.

Cutting services like those offered at Pine Free “will have long-term negative effects on their future adult lives,” said LaRochelle.

Funding cuts to community clinics around Vancouver has physicians worried as well.

“It’s a false economy because if we don’t do a good job with the populations that need care, they end up in hospitals and that ends up costing the government more,” said Margaret McGregor, a family doctor at Mid Main clinic.

But Dr. Hall says that the Vancouver Coastal Health’s decision to remove funding from Pine Free is part of the health authority’s plan to improve healthcare for Vancouver youth.

“The reason why we wanted to re-align our resources is to actually enhance service for youth across the city. What we saw were gaps in service for youth around the city,” he said.

He argued Vancouver has changed since the clinic opened.

“The community at the time was very different in Kitsilano back then. The system has changed a lot. Now there are other options for youth to access confidential health services.”

The health authority plans to concentrate funding at several bigger clinics so that youth can go to one place to access a wide range of resources. Three Vancouver clinics will continue to offer healthcare services to youth: Robert and Lily Lee, Three Bridges, and Raven Song.

NDP MLAs David Eby and George Heyman are hosting an emergency meeting open to the public. The meeting will take place Friday, May 2 at 12 p.m. at David Eby’s Point Grey constituency office. Liberal MLA Sam Sullivan has been invited to the meeting.

“It’s very apparent to me that the Pine clinic is a low overheard operation. It provides services to people who otherwise might tend to let things go and end up in emergency room,” Eby told the Courier last Tuesday. “It’s a model that works very well, and to see something like that taken apart for no reason is concerning.”

The Courier contacted Sam Sullivan’s office for comment but he declined.

Pine Free Clinic has been providing health services to the city’s youth for more than 40 years.

PINE FREE CLINIC IN NUMBERS

  • 3: number of nurses
  • 3: number of CUPE workers (counsellors and front desk)
  • 7: number of part-time physicians
  • 42: number of years Pine Free Clinic has been open.
  • 515: number of signatures on Keep the Pine Free Youth Clinic Open petition
  • 12,000: visits a year by clients

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