There are about 4,000 unattached patients in Huntsville and area, according to Janine van den Heuvel, Executive Director of the Algonquin Family Health Team.
She was before Huntsville Council at their January 29 meeting accompanied by Dr. Melanie Mar and said that 60 per cent of patients on a waitlist for a family doctor have been waiting for more than a year while 25 per cent have been waiting for more than two years.
“Without access to primary care, unattached patients will seek care in local emergency departments but they tend to go longer without care, they’re not being managed on a continuing basis, so when they do present to emergency departments for care their needs are really great and complex and have been let go for a number of years sometimes,” said van den Heuvel, adding that unattached patients often have poorly managed chronic conditions. She said many are vulnerable, marginalized and in need of medical care as well as social and community support. Access to those services are also items that the primary care team provides.
Van den Heuvel also said the number of patients without a family doctor is expected to increase quickly due to several fators including growth in the community and the retirement of doctors.
In Huntsville, primary care is provided by physicians and nurse practitioners. “Primary care is comprehensive care. It involves health promotion, chronic disease management, maternal and child care, mental health, nutrition counselling, and end-of-life care, to name a few,” said van den Heuvel. “Primary care is preventative in nature. It is more cost-effective, and more appropriate than seeking care in an emergency room for non-emergency services,” she added, but it is difficult to access when you don’t have a family doctor.
“Twenty per cent of the patients at the clinic sought primary care in the emergency department and some have accessed the emergency department for primary care 20 times in the last two years,” van den Heuvel told council.
She spoke of the partnership between Huntsville physicians, the Town of Huntsville and the Algonquin Family Health Team which has resulted in the Huntsville Health Care Clinic at the library Annex for unattached patients.
She shared some prelminary data with council based on the clinic being open from two to three days per week. She said the clinic sees anywhere from 20 to nearly 40 patients per day. “75 per cent of those patients report that they would’ve sought care at the emergency room if they hadn’t had that visit.”
Van den Heuvel said patients are also able to receive follow-up care where needed, which she said is particularly important for paitents dealing with chronic illnesses. She said the Algonquin Family Health Team is seeking permanent ongoing funding from various sources to support and expand the clinic in an effort to provide primary care to unattached patients and divert them from using the hospital emergency room.
“We have applied for a primary care expansion expression of interest… to fund and sustain the operations of this clinic.” She said the team is hoping to hear about their funding request any day. The clinic is run by a team made up of a primary care provider – either a family physician or nurse practitioner – a community paramedic, and an administation support person. She said ideally there would also be a social worker, a physiotherapist and mental health supports at the clinic which would operate five days per week instead.
She told council funding is being sought from multiple sources—the comprehensive version of the clinic with additional staff and running five days per week is expected to cost about $702,000 per year while the essential budget of $272,000 per year would cover a full-time nurse practitioner and an administrative assistant. She told council the clinic has enough money for the next six month. Councillor Helena Renwick asked what would happen if the funding doesn’t go through, she said the clinic could be in danger of closing.
Van den Heuvel also told council that the intent of making the clinic available to unattached patients is that it would be done for the short-term. “We don’t want people having to use this clinic. We want them attached and so while we’re working on a recruitment strategy heavily, our hope is that we will attach these people over the next several years and we can transition a clinic like this into more integrated services…”
Huntsville Mayor Nancy Alcock, Deputy Mayor Dan Armour and other councillors spoke about the importance of the clinic. It was noted that doctor shortages is a problem across Ontario, which is the reason the Province has made $60 million in funding over the next two years available for such initiatives, according to van den Heuvel.
Later in the meeting, council agreed to also contribute $12,000 from the Town’s Community Health Care Reserve to the clinic.
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