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Michael and Janet Mort, from Brentwood Bay, B.C., took out an ad in the newspaper to find a family doctor to renew Michael’s prescriptions.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Globe and Mail

A Victoria-area senior will likely have a family physician soon, but only after his desperate wife bought a newspaper classified ad to beg for help.

“Urgent! Please?” read the ad. “We need a doctors’ help to renew my 82-year-old husband’s prescriptions. We will agree to any reasonable fee. Michael is worth it. ... and we seem to have exhausted all of our options.”

Janet Mort, an education expert, author and 2020 Order of British Columbia recipient, placed the advertisement in the Victoria Times Colonist after her husband’s medicine for seizures and a heart condition had run out.

Eight months ago, Michael Mort, 82, became one of almost one million British Columbians without a family doctor when his physician retired. Ms. Mort tried calling every walk-in clinic in the Victoria area, but wasn’t able to get an appointment.

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Mr. Mort had used Telus’s telemedicine platform for health guidance. But Ms. Mort said that last Wednesday, she learned her husband would need a doctor to renew his prescriptions.

“I was told, really nicely by my pharmacy – I think we were both in tears – that I needed a doctor to get his prescriptions. And I said, I’ve been trying to get a doctor for eight months. I don’t have one,” Ms. Mort said in an interview.

She called Telus, but no appointments were available until October. She could not get her husband into a walk-in clinic.

“And I panicked, because if I don’t solve the problem for Michael, nobody else was going to,” she said. “I’m responsible for him. I’m his caregiver for 50 years.”

The couple eventually decided to turn to an ad.

“I had a real sense of shame that I was making him so vulnerable. Putting his name out and saying that we need help. We’re very private people. But I couldn’t think of anything else to do.”

Mr. Mort’s situation underlines another health crisis facing B.C.: Nearly 900,000 people – 20 per cent of the population – do not have a family doctor.

Many patients end up in walk-in clinics and emergency rooms, with no continuity of care.

B.C.’s Health Minister Adrian Dix has highlighted the alternative care at urgent and primary care centres (UPCCs), but the Official Opposition and many patients say those places fill up quickly.

After Ms. Mort’s ad was published on Saturday, several doctors got in touch who were willing to do zoom calls and fill the prescriptions. Two said they would accept Mr. Mort as a new patient.

“He needs somebody who can do his physical exam. I can’t bear the responsibility for that,” Ms. Mort said.

A statement provided by Island Health said an official spoke to the couple on Monday and Tuesday to learn more about Mr. Mort’s care needs, to discuss what might be available, and to offer support.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Ms. Mort said her husband’s prescription had been refilled. But she called the experience of the past few days and months “wrong.”

“I’m going to lose him years earlier than I need to if somebody doesn’t do something. And there’s thousands of us out there. And I’m not just talking seniors. I’m talking Indigenous people. I’m talking children. ... It’s everybody,” she said.

“But I’m just lucky that I have the education and the background and the experience to do this,” said Ms. Mort, who has designed innovative literacy curriculums.

The Ministry of Health said in a statement that people who desperately need primary care can try calling 8-1-1, a free provincial health information and advice phone line, UPCCs that take walk-ins and virtual health care options.

“We know many people in the province are feeling the effects of the capacity challenges our health-care system is facing, and this individual is no different,” the statement said. ”But we are committed to working in collaboration with family physicians to address these long-standing issues.”

Dr. Ramneek Dosanjh, president of Doctors of BC, said physicians are disheartened at the state of health care in B.C. and understand why people take desperate measures to find family doctors.

She said the fundamental challenges in the primary care system that adversely affect doctors need to be remedied. And no one entity can fix the problems.

“It is up to government to work with Doctors of BC to increase family physician compensation, make allowances for overhead costs, and to remove administrative burdens,” she said in a statement.

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