September 17, 2008

We’re all on the health team

As published in The Erin Advocate

A lot of things need to happen for the new Family Health Team to reach its full potential, and strong community support will be a key factor in its success.

The team approach to local health care is new to some people, but it has worked well in other areas. The East Wellington Family Health Team (EWFHT) is funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health to provide service to Erin, Hillsburgh and Rockwood – the entire region from the Guelph city limits to Winston Churchill Boulevard, and from Ballinafad to Orton.

It came into being on May 1 this year, and is led by Executive Director Michelle Karker and Clinical Lead Dr. Duncan Bull. Patients of local doctors continue to be served at the existing medical offices in Erin and Rockwood, but major changes have started and many more are planned – including a new $3 million medical clinic in Erin and a smaller one in Rockwood.

The doctors are on staff. They do not bill OHIP for patient visits, and they are part of a collaborative team that will initially include a nurse practitioner, a dietician, a mental health counsellor, a program lead (for health promotion activities), registered nurses and a registered practical nurse.

“It is a personal choice for doctors,” said Karker. “They can earn a good living and not have to worry about running a business. Many doctors want a better quality of life.”

The team now includes doctors Duncan Bull, Carla Lennox and Shane Neilson in Erin and Jane Hosdil in Rockwood, but they are not accepting new patients. There is funding for three more doctors in Erin and two more in Rockwood, but with the shortage of doctors and nurse practitioners, recruiting is a major challenge. About 6,000 people in the area have no family doctor.

In the team model, patients have one primary doctor, but can be treated by other local doctors when needed. Treatment by other professionals will be conveniently available in the same building.

There will be no need to travel to Rockwood, since some staff will split their time between the two locations, though patients will still be referred out of town as necessary for testing or to see specialists. Patients will retain the right to have a family doctor outside the EWFHT.

For now, the team has leased office and treatment space in the basement of Dr. Jon Walcott’s optometry office at 18 Thompson Cres., near Kennedy Flags. Patients should be receiving some of the new services there by the end of October.

The team approach is a huge leap forward, not just because of the addition of provincially-funded staff positions, but also because of the more modern philosophy on which the team is based. They will treat illness, of course, but they will have the time and the mandate to work on prevention.

They will work for the whole community, not just their registered patients. For example, there will be health promotion activities in areas like diabetes care and heart health. Services may also be extended to outlying communities in the team’s region.

“It is for the community at large. This hasn’t existed before,” said Karker. “We are also a registered charity, so we can fundraise for things we need.”

What can individuals do to help? First of all, talk it up. If you know people in the health care field, promote Erin as a great place to live and work. The team has a volunteer board of directors – call the team office at 519-833-7576 to find out more. Mayor Rod Finnie is helping to initiate fundraising efforts – contact him at 519-855-4407 ext. 232 or to find out more.

When the fundraising starts, consider making a contribution. You will likely be helping to buy extra medical equipment that is not covered by the clinic budget.

The province will cover the cost of leasing the two clinic buildings, with the lease to be renewed every five years, but they will not build them. The team itself wants to focus on health care, not construction, and Mayor Finnie says the private sector has not been prepared to take on the Erin building.

That leaves the Town and the County as potential landlords. Either government could borrow to finance construction, and recover the money through the lease. The mayor and County Councillor Lou Maieron have urged County Council to do the borrowing, but the matter is unresolved.

It shouldn’t stay that way too long. A modern medical office is an important part of attracting medical staff. Discussion has started about potential direct financial contributions from the County and even the Town, and about whether the clinic would be on Town-owned land, said the mayor.

“It is about improving the health of the whole community,” he said.

Now that the province has come through with funding, the project should proceed as soon as possible.

No comments: