The Saanich Peninsula Youth Health Clinic is re-opening on March 15 in its new home at Peninsula Medical on Bevan Ave. This is the first in a two-part series. Read part two here.
When a walk-in youth clinic first opened on the Saanich Peninsula last June, it was supposed to be a two-month pilot project. Operating out of Dr. Kate Evans’ existing office in the Ocean Pier Medical Clinic, it served youth from 12-24 and was the result of two years of meetings between doctors and community groups across Greater Victoria.
“I just realized as a mum and as a member of the community that there are youth here who do struggle,” said Evans, the medical director of the youth clinic.
Jen Harrison, a youth and family engagement co-ordinator with SharedCareBC, wondered what the demand would be.
“We were just going to start this thing for a couple of months to see if people [would] come, because we kept being asked, ‘is there a need?’ We have all these services down in Victoria,” said Harrison.
Instead of closing after two months, it stayed open for six. Doctors would see between four and 16 patients in that two-hour window, which could sometimes be overwhelming.
“Our youth advisers said, ‘you can’t close. This is a valuable service,’” said Dr. Lori Vogt, a psychiatrist who has been with the project since the start.
“Sometimes you don’t know the true need until you open it up,” said Harrison.
The clinic stayed open until mid-December, when they felt they had to close to apply some lessons learned from the pilot project. About three months later, they are opening again, hopefully for the long haul.
While similar services were available in downtown Victoria and the West Shore, Vogt said youth had trouble getting there. They may have had to miss a full day of school for an appointment, or a parent would have to take time off work to drive them. Some youth said their family members worked at local health centres and they didn’t want to see a cousin or an aunt during a medical appointment.
Young volunteers said the clinic had to be close to home, open after school hours, inclusive and judgment-free. They wanted to be friendly to the LGBTQ community, and Evans acknowledged they are at higher risk for mental health issues, not inherently because of their orientation, but “because society and their families often reject them.”
“It was wonderful to provide a safe space for them,” said Evans.
Youth also said they wanted involvement from local First Nations to “learn more and heal some of the old wounds,” said Evans. In light of this, clinic doctors will take cultural safety training on the legacy of intergenerational trauma that comes from oppression from government and society at-large. They will also continue to accept feedback from First Nations patients about what would make them more comfortable in the space.
Vogt said the group had studied similar youth clinics on lower Vancouver Island and learned they dealt with sports injuries and requests for birth control. After opening on the Peninsula, both doctors were surprised at how many youth were seeking mental health support for anxiety, depression, substance use, psychotic symptoms, grief and complicated family situations. Young patients were happy they could see a medical doctor for physical issues, said Vogt, but after a few visits to build trust, they would feel comfortable telling the doctor that “Oh, by the way, I’m suffering from these mental health symptoms and I need help,” said Vogt. The doctor could then refer them for mental health support, be it from a counsellor or a psychiatrist (a medical doctor who can prescribe medication).
Vogt said it was important to note that while patients could certainly drop-in to see a family doctor or counsellor, a psychiatrist requires a referral and appointment — which the family doctor can provide if needed.
Vogt said publicly funded mental health services are “state-of-the-art,” and during the pilot project, an intake worker was helping channel youth into the right services and doing on-the-spot counselling, which was “a huge help” to doctors and youth.
In the future, Evans would like to have discounted contraception the way Island Sexual Health does. Right now, they can only offer some free samples. “The ultimate dream would be if people could donate so we could provide free or discounted contraception.”
With their new home at Peninsula Medical, that dream might not be so far off.
“If we had applied ourselves to gain non-profit status, it would take maybe a year or two,” said Evans. “This way, we’re working under the umbrella of Peninsula Medical and they already have that status, so we’ll be able to accept donations quite soon.”
Next week, learn about the complexities of opening a two-hour a week youth clinic, and how individuals and businesses can help. The walk-in clinic re-opens March 15 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Peninsula Medical, 2a-2379 Bevan Ave. Read part two here.