By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
The pieces are falling into place to re-open the doors of the Port Hope walk-in clinic.
At Northumberland County council Wednesday, councillors supported doing their part to support a one-year pilot project to get it going again.
Director of Health and Human Services Glenn Dees outlined the project in a report that opened with a bit of history.
For almost two decades, the community had a walk-in clinic in Port Hope, first on Ontario Street, then at the Community Health Centre at 99 Toronto Rd. It closed in 2020 – the report blames the onset of COVID-19 reducing patient visits and limited resourcing for doctors experiencing expanded practices and patient volumes (coupled with retirements).
Recognizing the growing numbers of individuals without primary-care physicians (at least 4,000 in Northumberland County alone who, for lack of this care, place a greater strain on the resources of hospital emergency units and the county paramedic services), the municipality has been pursuing options to reopen the clinic in collaboration with community partners, and is requesting in-kind (as opposed to financial) assistance from the county in the form of public support.
The county will also serve as the nominal lessee for the space, with actual rental paid by the clinic. A similar arrangement would be in place to provide for a part-time contract employee to help set up the Electronic Medical Reporting system that would be required.
“Transition of the service to a community partner would be pursued during the initial first-year pilot,” the report noted.
Meetings have taken place between Port Hope council and the Port Hope and District Health Care Foundation (which previously had a role in overseeing the walk-in clinic), as well as consultations with potential funders, physicians and other stakeholders.
The report foresees a doctor-driven operation at the 99 Toronto St. location, with the primary aim of treating unrostered patients. In fact, it said, visits from rostered individuals on weekdays will be discouraged.
Its four-day-a-week schedule is anticipated to offer service from 3 to 7 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. It is anticipated that this schedule could accommodate some 7,000 visits during the one-year pilot.
“Efforts by the Municipality of Port Hope have resulted in the ability to source physicians for the clinic, and agreements would be established with them to ensure risks to the county are mitigated and there is a commitment of time from each,” it stated.
As well, a pharmacy located inside the building has expressed an interest in providing financial resources, and this possibility will be pursued. And the CHC – also located in the building – will offer “a unique opportunity for future synergies in providing broad health-care service.”
Other partners assisting with this project, as well as the Port Hope and District Health Care Foundation, include the Town of Cobourg and the Port Hope Rotary Club.
The anticipated budget calls for revenues from all partners of $122,713 and expenses of $123,672. However, fundraising is in the works in the form of a March 2 Port Hope Rotary Club Enjoy The Flavours of Port Hope event March 2 at Dalewood.
Deputy Warden Olena Hankivsky (Mayor of the Municipality of Port Hope) said the initiative “becomes even more poignant and more pressing for our community, given recent discussions at the ROMA conference,” referring to the just-completed Rural Ontario Municipal Association convention.
Hankivsky had her own statistics to share:
65% of all rural municipalities in Ontario did not have access to a walk-in clinic
525,000 rural constituents do not have access to primary care
Rural Ontario residents are losing access to primary care at a rate four times faster than urbanites
There are more than 15,000 unfilled positions for primary-care physicians
In Northumberland County, we are slated to lose 10 more primary-care physicians by the end of next year
Minister of Health Sylvia Jones had hinted at an important announcement in February to strengthen primary-care teams and models in the province, Hankivsky said.
“But while we are waiting for the announcements and waiting for systemic changes, this is an example of team-driven solutions.”
Cobourg Mayor Lucas Cleveland said the town’s projected $15,000 contribution is not official (the town expects to finalize its budget at the end of this month), but he praised the initiative.
“It isn’t the solution we are looking for, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Cleveland said.
“It’s not just for the residents of Port Hope, but for the residents of Northumberland County.”
Hankivsky agreed, pointing out that the previous walk-in clinic found a majority of its clients came from outside of Port Hope. Though the majority were from across Northumberland County, she said, but there were some from Durham Region and Peterborough as well.
Warden Brian Ostrander knew a number of people who relied on that clinic, and noted that the clinic was also used by people who had doctors that were just unavailable at the time.
“Again, as with housing, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution,” Councillor Mandy Martin said.
Martin mentioned the Ontario Health Team-Northumberland clinic that operates quietly in Colborne, noting the positive effects it has had in terms of better outcomes in both medical and mental-health issues.
She expressed her hope that the leadership shown by the Colborne and Port Hope clinics is bound to make a favourable impression when it comes to competition for health-care dollars from the province.
“We are not just standing there saying, ‘Give us the money’ – which we are – but we are also saying, ‘We are on this, and here are some innovative approaches.’ It exemplifies what we can do and what we have inherited.”
“It certainly speaks to what municipalities can do and have to do for our citizens when there is no other solution available to us,” Ostrander agreed