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Creston doctors locked out of Osprey Medical Clinic

Lorne Eckersley/Creston Valley Advance

Patients with appointments at the Osprey Medical Clinic got a rude surprise when they got a phone call saying the clinic had closed. A notice on the door now reads: "Osprey Medical Clinic is now closed. If this an emergency: Please go directly to the hospital or call 911."

"We were unable to reach an agreement with the doctors that would make this a self-sustaining business," said Ken Gadicke, a Creston accountant who owns Osprey Medical Clinic in partnership with his former accounting firm partner, Rick Minichiello. "It is unfortunate that it has come to this but we couldn't keep it going. We had no choice but to close it."

A message being distributed to patients by three physicians who worked out of the clinic at the Creston Valley Mall, Drs. Raphael Elemuo, Tara Guthrie and Susan Hopkins isn't quite so diplomatic:

"The owners of Osprey Medical Clinic breached our contracts in January of this year. In response to our request that they honour the terms of our contract, they have locked us out and closed the clinic without notice.

"We are currently working to find an interim solution that would allow us to serve our patients while we relocate. Should you have an urgent medical problem during this time, please attend the emergency department at the Creston Valley Hospital.

"As your physicians, we sincerely regret the inconvenience to you and appreciate your patience and understanding during this difficult time. We would like to assure you that we continue to be committed to our patients and will keep you informed as further information becomes available."

"There was no notice," Elemuo said when the three physicians met to speak with the Advance on Monday morning. "We didn't even tell our patients."

Elemuo immigrated from South Africa and started his practice in Osprey Medical Clinic on Oct. 3, 2011. His contract with the clinic is for three years, he said. Hopkins and Guthrie said their contracts do not have end dates.

Guthrie said the clinic's finances were brought up by Gadicke in a meeting with the doctors last March.

"Then we didn't hear another thing until January," when, the physicians said, their contracts were breached.

Under the terms of their contracts, doctors work for the clinic, which bills the health system for their services in return for 30 per cent of all billing generated within the clinic. The 30 per cent is meant to fund the clinic's staff, management, equipment and rent.

"When I was doing my research before relocating to Creston I found that the 30/70 split was a standard practice in most clinics," Hopkins said.

Hopkins said that once the doctors believed the clinic had breached their contract they sought representation by a law firm.

"We knew things might not work out, but we expected at the very worst we would have a month's notice to relocate," she said.

On Friday afternoon, the clinic's locks were changed. Guthrie, the only doctor working in the clinic at the time, was busy seeing patients and was unaware of the lock change when she left work that day.

"I don't lock up and nobody told me," she said. "I can't even describe how I feel about getting zero notice that the clinic was closing. And now I feel terrible because I left another clinic to work at Osprey and my patients are being affected."

While the doctors' access to patient medical records had not been locked out this morning, they said there was no certainty about what it would take to assure their access to the files in the near future.

"The files are electronic and there is no concern for their security," Guthrie said. "But we need to find a way to continue to look after our patients. No one in the medical system seems to know what to do next as they haven't seen this situation happen before."

"This is an unusual situation," Hopkins admitted. "We appreciate all the efforts that have been made by the [Creston Health Working Group] to recruit us to Creston and we know that everyone is trying to find a solution that is best for our patients."

"We are shocked, completely taken aback," Elemuo said.

Creston Mayor Ron Toyota said that the health working group and elected officials would not get involved with what has become a legal dispute.

"But we will work to ensure that patients are able to get the treatment they deserve from their doctors," he said. "I know that temporary alternatives have been offered and that no one will rest until patients' needs are being met."

Regional District of Central Kootenay Area B director John Kettle, who also chairs the Kootenay East Regional Hospital District board, said today that there is no role for the hospital district to play in the dispute.

"But a temporary premises in the hospital has been offered and I know that that our health care system will co-operate in finding a solution that works for the patients," he said.

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