Old school values at new medical centre

GRAND OPENING: Dr Byrdie Johnston and William Akel take turns cutting the ribbon at Thrive Medical on Domain Road. Photos Troy Baker E4766-05

Brianna Stewart

PATIENTS eager to enrol in Whakatāne’s newest, independently owned medical centre were the first through the doors at Thrive Medical last Monday in what is a full circle moment for the building.

Housed inside what was Dr Richard Akel’s practice for many years, it is hoped Thrive Medical will deliver old school values that make people feel comfortable visiting their doctor.

Owner and GP Byrdie Johnston said she wanted to take general practice back to grassroots, with one of her core values being accessibility.

“I want it to be easy for patients to seek medical care. It’s about being a little bit creative about how that looks.”

In that spirit, the team intend to take their lunch breaks earlier than most other people in town, so workers can get appointments during their breaks.

“We’re trying to have it so people don’t have to take time off work to see a doctor.”

Dr Johnston intended to make a variety of appointment types available, including phone and portal consultations.

“I will also have videos on the website, so people can go there first, and they might get an answer to their question.

“Just being proactive about making it easier for patients to get the information they need, so it may mean patients don’t need to come in and make an appointment, which means we are available for people who do need us.”

Opening her own medical practice had long been a goal for Dr Johnston, who has been a general practitioner for about 15 years, including a decade in the Eastern Bay.

She also saw a need in Whakatāne for more medical practices.

Dr Johnston said with the last of the baby boomer generation of doctors coming to retirement age, GPs were in short supply and addressing the “workforce crisis” was going to take some innovation.

“Instead of me churning through patients as quickly as I can, I’m going to be taking a step back and doing more of the oversight.

“The patient will be triaged by a nurse who can do the blood pressure and a heap of stuff that the doctor doesn’t need to be doing, and then I come in as needed.

“There are some efficiencies we can gain; by having a patient see a nurse first, they may not need to see a doctor.”

Dr Johnston likened the experience of opening her own medical practice to going on an overseas trip, where it does not feel real until your feet are on foreign soil.

Opening her practice last Monday was like arriving at the airport.

“Once I start seeing patients I will have arrived at my destination and the adventure begins.”

On Monday morning, Dr Johnston and William Akel, son of the late Dr Akel, cut a ribbon to mark the official opening of Thrive Medical.

Mr Akel shared memories of his father’s practice, which was opened in 1946, and acknowledged what was to come as the building at 36 Domain Road came full circle as a medical centre again.

“This is a new dawn, a new beginning. We’ve got the future in front of us, and Byrdie is that future.”

Among the crowd that attended the opening was 93-year-old Joan Latimer who, in her early 20s, was a patient of Dr Akel’s when she lived at Te Teko.

“We used to have to catch the Road Services bus that came from Rotorua. You had to wait ages for it to come in to visit the doctor,” she said.

“There were no chairs in here, just a bench you used to sit on.”

Ms Latimer said the opening of Thrive was “wonderful” for Whakatāne.

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