New After-Hours Clinic Improves Access to Primary Care in Rural Community While Honoring a Sister’s Memory

A heartwarming initiative led by Dr. Debi O’Leary is making waves throughout the recently established Lakeland Ridges Municipality, which encompasses the Village of Canterbury. A new Tuesday night after-hours clinic at the Canterbury Community Centre is transforming access to health care in the region while honouring a personal memory.

A Beacon of Hope in the Lakeland Ridges Municipality

Conveniently offering first-come, first-served appointments every Tuesday from 5 to 8 p.m., the Canterbury Community Centre turned clinic is designed to divert patients from emergency departments (EDs) by addressing minor, uncomplicated health concerns.

“We’ve seen remarkable success in diverting patients from the EDs, with up to 33 patients being seen at our clinic in a single evening,” said Dr. O’Leary.

The clinic provides a range of essential services, including diagnoses and treatments for minor upper respiratory infections, headaches, hypertension, joint pain/strains, lacerations, soft tissue injuries, urinary tract infections, GI issues, and rashes. Additionally, gynecological services, STI screenings, driver physicals, and ongoing medication refills are also available.

The clinic is also garnering referrals from Tele-Care 811 and local pharmacists, reflecting the clinic’s impact in broadening access to healthcare services.

Honoring a Sister’s Memory and Transforming Healthcare

Dr. O’Leary, a well-known figure in the Upper River Valley, has dedicated three decades to family medicine, obstetrics, and medical education in the Upper River Valley area. In March of 2021, amidst the global stress on healthcare systems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. O’Leary received distressing news about her sister in Australia. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 Myelofibrosis, a form of cancer. Despite attempting a Stem Cell Transplant treatment, her sister passed away in April 2022. Driven by this personal tragedy, Dr. O’Leary was motivated to establish an after-hours clinic in her community with the goal of doing her part to relieve the stress on the medical system, which will ultimately ensure better access and earlier diagnosis in cases like her sister’s.

To kick-start this vital project, Dr. O’Leary reached out to Mayor Tanya Cloutier of Lakeland Ridges, who was profoundly moved upon receiving the email expressing the doctor’s interest in establishing the after-hours clinic. Overwhelmed with tears of gratitude, Mayor Cloutier recognized the tremendous impact this endeavour would have on their small, rural community.

“To be able to offer a service like this, with someone of Dr. O’Leary’s calibre in a small rural community is something I hardly dared to dream of when I was elected,” said Mayor Cloutier.

Mayor Cloutier successfully secured space in the community centre on Tuesday evenings, while Dr. O’Leary generously donated most of the necessary examination room supplies. The clinic opened on April 4, and within the first week, the mission to honour Dr. O’Leary’s sister was fulfilled as two patients were diagnosed with cancer through early investigative testing, enabling them to promptly receive life-saving treatment.

A Valuable Learning Opportunity for Resident Physicians

Besides its positive impact on the community, the after-hours clinic has become a valuable learning opportunity in rural health care for Dr. Nick Byers, a resident physician from Dalhousie University who has been working closely with Dr. O’Leary.

“Working in a walk-in clinic is very different from working in an ED or family practice,” said Dr. Byers. “In the walk-in clinic, I need to be able to assess any type of medical issue and perform minor procedures, but without the benefit of nursing staff support that we get in the ED, and without any advance notice like in family practice.”

A Community United for Better Healthcare

The outpouring of support from the community has been overwhelming. Jessica Hay, a recent patient, is very grateful for the clinic.

 “Our ER system is overloaded, and it’s so nice to not feel like I’m burdening the ER,” said Jessica. “The wait time was reasonable due to the minor concerns being addressed at the clinic. When you can’t get an appointment with your family doctor and don’t want to misuse the emergency room, having a clinic like this available to the public is refreshing. It’s a wonderful alternative to the ED, and accessing it was straightforward! We definitely need more options like this in our area!”

Canterbury’s community centre-turned-after-hours clinic is a shining example of progress and dedication to improving access to health care in New Brunswick. Dr. O’Leary’s vision and compassion, combined with the support of Lakeland Ridges’ Mayor Cloutier and the enthusiastic response from the community, have created a beacon of hope for individuals seeking accessible and timely healthcare services.