The patient waiting area at the St. Francis Health Centre in Barry’s Bay was crowded on January 11, 2019 with representatives of provincial and municipal government, local and regional healthcare providers, and other stakeholders. They included MPP John Yakabuski, the mayors of the Townships of Brudenell Lyndoch Raglan, Killaloe-Hagarty-Richards, Madawaska Valley, North Algona Wilberforce, and South Algonquin. They had gathered to celebrate the Grand Opening of the Madawaska Valley Family Health Team (MVFHT).
Shown above cutting the ribbon to mark the Grand Opening are: (from left) Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MPP John Yakabuski, MVFHT Board Chair Dr. Alex Atfield, MVFHT Lead Physician Dr. Jason Malinowski, BLR Mayor Sheldon Keller, MV Mayor Kim Love, KHR Mayor Janice Visneskie-Moore, Champlain LHIN Board Chair Jean-Pierre Boisclair (holding scissors), MVFHT Executive Director Susan Farrar, NAW Mayor James Brose, SA Mayor Jane Dumas, Champlain LHIN Sub-Region Director Kevin Barclay, MVFHT Office Administrator Rosa Etmanskie.
The event began with MVFHT Executive Director Susan Farrar introducing guests of honour and MVFHT staff. She announced that in anticipation of the launch, local physicians have already enrolled over 1,000 patients in the past six months. She then introduced MVFHT Board Chair Dr. Alex Atfield who told the crowd how far they had come in the past year. He pointed out that the Madawaska Valley FHT is one of the first Family Health Teams (FHTs) created in Ontario since 2012. He said,
We’re really lucky to be at the beginning of, hopefully, a new wave of FHTs in Ontario. The fact that we were able to do this is a sign of the modern times that we live in. The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care in Ontario and the Champlain Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) were able to identify our particular community as being in need from the data they collect.
Dr. Atfield gave The Current more background about how the funding for MVFHT came about through Inter-Professional Primary Care Funding for Primary Care Teams. He described how, initially, the Champlain LHIN had rejected his request. He responded to them reinforcing the local need and saying, “Please keep us in mind.” This had the desired effect. He said,
I think that statement put us on the radar, because they came back to us a few months later and said, “The projects we have in mind didn’t pass muster with the Ministry. We’ve looked at our data again. We drilled down to the community level and it turns out you’re right – you are in high need. Can we work together?” And I said, “Absolutely. I’ll drop everything to help put this together.”
How the MV Family Health Team impacts Valley residents
Farrar told The Current how MVFHT and in particular its two Nurse Practitioners will improve access to healthcare for the community. Everyone who is presently registered with a physician at St. Francis Healthcare Centre can use the services of the FHT so this will free up more appointment times. And for those patients in the Valley who don’t have family doctors, she had good news:
We are going to be doing some urgent care appointments for patients that don’t have family doctors, starting Monday, January 14. It will be limited access, same day appointments. We’ll have a few reserved for patients that don’t have family doctors. Anything urgent like a cold, a sick child, it will take a little bit [of pressure] off the emergency department. [It’s for] things that are urgent but a little bit more minor … less than 48-hour onset; for example, if your kid falls, sprains their ankle.
MV Family Health Team (from left): Stacie Wojick, Medical Receptionist; Tierney Lunney, Nurse Practitioner; Craig O’Brien, Nurse Practitioner; Susan Farrar, Executive Director; Rosa Etmanskie, Office Administrator.
Farrar explained that Nurse Practitioners can interpret, treat and diagnose. They can refer to specialists, order and read X-rays, etc. As well, MVFHT is actively recruiting for a social worker, dietician and physiotherapist.
The future of primary health care in the Valley
Farrar said MVFHT will continue to expand its services as the team grows. This includes education and programming. She said MVFHT eventually expects to be able to help provide care to all patients in need in the local area.
From a physician recruitment perspective, South Algonquin Mayor Jane Dumas (who chairs the area Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee, and also serves on the Board of St. Francis Memorial Hospital) said,
This is going to change the whole level of care in this community – which is awesome. This is what physicians are looking for. The social service function is phenomenal – that’s such a huge part of well-being. I’m euphoric.
Her sentiments were echoed by Madawaska Valley Mayor Kim Love who said,
It’s very exciting. It’s going to really help our doctors and it’s going to help us recruit more doctors. It’s taken a load off of Physician Recruitment because we were getting really worried. We were doing everything we could but [were] just not able to get the doctors no matter what we tried.
From left: Valley Manor CEO Trisha Sammon, MV Mayor Kim Love, SA Mayor Jane Dumas