Physician shortage, verbal abuse leads Warman walk-in clinic to temporarily close

The Legends Medical Clinic in Warman, about 20 km northeast of Saskatoon, is closing its walk-in operations for at least two weeks due to a physician shortage. (Shutterstock / MasterPhoto - image credit)
The Legends Medical Clinic in Warman, about 20 km northeast of Saskatoon, is closing its walk-in operations for at least two weeks due to a physician shortage. (Shutterstock / MasterPhoto - image credit)

A private Saskatchewan medical clinic is pausing its walk-in operations for patients as physician shortages lead to longer wait times and verbal harassment of staff and doctors.

Glenn Murray, a pharmacist and co-owners of Legends Medical Clinic and Legends Pharmacy in Warman, about 20 km northeast of Saskatoon, said it had to be done.

"We've been completely run over in our walk-ins," Murray said. "This isn't something we want to do, it's something that we feel we have to do."

The clinic announced the operations halt for at least two weeks post on social media, citing the physician shortage and verbal abuse.

It said to forward concerns about the closure to Mayor Gary Philipchuk and the Warman-Martensville MLA Terry Jenson.

In an email to CBC, Philipchuk said he hadn't received calls about the closure.

"We have a follow-up meeting with the health minister about increased services in Warman on Tuesday. We continue to advocate, as health is a provincial responsibility," the email stated.

In an interview with CBC, Murray detailed the verbal abuse and aggressive actions from some patients who learn of the extensive wait times due to too few staff.

The poor treatment of staff and physicians is beyond what he's seen in his 22 years in the profession.

While not condoning it, he said people do occasionally lose their temper, but it now happens multiple times a day.

"We actually had somebody tear posters off the walls on their way out because the wait was going to be four-and-a-half or five hours," he said.

"Our physicians understand the frustration: people losing their family doctors, not being able to get in to see a physician … but you can't take it out on clinic staff or physicians who are doing the walk-ins, doing the best they can."

Jenn Zanidean is one of those Warman residents who, about six months ago, lost her family doctor.

She relied Legends' walk-in clinic for her daughter's broken wrist, but went to Saskatoon for the X-rays.

Then, her daughter ended up breaking her arm and needed it recasted, and when the medical clinic had to close early two days in a row, she went to Saskatoon again.

"It's really frustrating and it's really disappointing again knowing how badly we need them to stay open; but from a different standpoint I'm more disgusted in the fact that it's taken this long for our government to do something about it," she said.

"We should be able to go to our town and have care provided for us."

Zanidean understands leaders like Premier Scott Moe have a lot on their plate, but said she wishes the physician shortage was a higher priority. She's worried that if the trend continues, doctors will become more burnt out and there won't be anywhere to go for services.

Too many patients, too few physicians

Legends has three physicians and should have more than double that, Murray said.

The shortage leads to excessive wait times at the clinic, which opens at 9 .m. On any given day, there's a two to three hour wait time by 10 a.m.  And the clinic often has to close the walk-ins by noon or 1 p.m. due to capacity limits.

Murray estimates about 70 to 80 per cent of the walk-ins aren't from the area.

In Saskatoon, clinics are no longer accepting new patients.

Murray said patients often don't have typical walk-in requests — which he described as ailments like strep throat and ear infections.

Instead there are patients such as the 75-day-old infant with multiple health concerns that took a doctor two hours to manage.

"It's not conducive to quality health care," he said.

LISTEN | Co-owner of Legends Medical Clinic discusses reasons for closing walk-in services:

He fears the situation will eventually lead to an exodus of doctors as it did in 2016 when four of the city's five doctors left.

"I want to be clear about this, this is not something new; it's just boiled over now to the point where it's unbearable, physicians are going to burn out," Murray said.

Warman is known as one of the fastest growing cities in the province, competing alongside Martensville, about 10 km southwest of the city.

Warman is home to about 12,400 people, up from 4,800 in 2006.

Murray said the province should have been watching the issue more closely.

He said the clinic's hands have been tied with policies that make it difficult for them to recruit and retain physicians.

"Our community needs help … our clinic can't continue to operate this way." - Glenn Murray, co-owner of Legends Medical Clinic in Warman, Sask.

In an email, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health said Warman and Martensville have historically had challenges with recruiting and retaining family physicians.

"Saskdocs and the Practitioner Staff Affairs-Saskatoon area office have been working collaboratively to develop a recruitment and retention strategy to support Martensville and Warman," the email stated.

"The province has recently committed to funding three nurse practitioners for Warman and another three for Martensville. The [Saskatchewan Health Authority] will be providing [nurse practitioner] services in these communities soon to help meet the primary health care needs."

As Murray understood it, those practitioners were supposed to begin Oct. 1, but he hasn't heard any specific details about it from the SHA, and found they weren't able to answer their questions about it beyond the starting date being pushed back.

While the long-term solution is recruiting more physicians, the nurse practitioners will take some of the pressure off the clinics.

"I don't think it matters to any of the clinic owners where they're going, they just need to come," he said. "Our community needs help … our clinic can't continue to operate this way."