Sexual health doesn’t have to be hidden. The Opt Fernie Clinic at the Elk Valley Hospital is an all-inclusive clinic addressing the sexual health needs of people including a larger winter population of seasonal residents. Opt Fernie’s goal is to “provide comprehensive education, accurate information, support for sexual expression and reproductive choice, and confidential clinical services that help British Columbians enjoy healthy sexuality throughout life.”
The demands have increased since the clinic opened in 2006. Opt Fernie had 47 clients the first year. In 2012, the clinic had 185 clients. January through March, the clinic will be open weekly every Tuesday night from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. to meet clients’ growing demand. Clinics are typically the first and third Tuesday of the month but there is a greater need in the winter months.
The Opt Fernie clinic is available to all ages, genders and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered – “all ages, all genders, all orientations”.
Organizations and clinics that are connected to Opt are pro-choice, pro-youth, and queer-friendly. This means that regardless of your question, they will answer with respect and knowledge. While many still maintain the WGW certification (Won’t Get Weird), Opt cannot vouch for the certification of each staff member and every organization.
“Volunteers are warm and welcoming,” said Sue Bannatyne, a registered nurse supervisor who works at the clinic and provides education in the community. “We realize that it might be a stressful personal situation.”
The most common request at the clinic is birth control and testing for sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy testing and HIV screening.
Clients can see a doctor plus there are nurses and trained volunteers. People are able to access sexual health resources for free with a Provincial Health Care plan. For residents of Quebec or non-Canadians, the costs are $30-$50 depending on the services and tests. Receipts are issued for those clients.
Some clients don’t have a general practitioner, some health care costs are prohibitive for out of country clients, and other clients are simply working during the day. For non-Canadians, lab costs are $287 if a patient comes through the hospital; however, at Opt there are no lab fees.
There are 12 trained volunteers.
Some prescriptions from Opt can be filled onsite during the clinic.
Opt Fernie began in 2004/5 when a group of concerned individuals from the Fernie Women’s Resource Centre and Public Health Nursing searched for funding to start the drop-in clinic.
The clinic is funded by the provincial government, the United Way, grants, donations, fundraising and pharmacy grants for special events.
Bannatyne has visited schools from kindergarten to grade 12 educating and encouraging the theme of healthy bodies. She focuses on decision making and birth control with the grade 12 classroom.
In the past Opt Fernie has offered the Askable Adult program talking about sexual health and healthy bodies for caregivers of children from preschool to teens,” said Bannatyne.
“We discuss how to talk to children about public versus private, decision making and how to pass on your family values.”
Education for the Fernie area has been funded in the past by CBT, City of Fernie, Emily Bryden Foundation, TECK, fundraising and donations, and fee for service.
Based in British Columbia, Options for Sexual Health is Canada’s largest non-profit provider of sexual health services through clinics, education programs, and the 1-800 SEX-SENSE information and referral line.
For a thorough list of services offered at Opt Fernie call (250) 423-8274 or visit