Province funding new primary care clinic for derostered GHC patients

The 10,000 Group Health Centre (GHC) patients who are scheduled to be derostered Friday will continue to have access to primary care thanks to a new outpatient clinic that is being funded by the Ministry of Health.

The province is investing over $2.8 million throughout a two-year term to establish the new Access Care Clinic at GHC's 170 East Street facility.

This clinic will be able to service 11,200 patients by providing primary care services such as urgent care, episodic care, chronic disease symptom management and prescription maintenance.

It will also facilitate ongoing referrals and ensure uninterrupted access to GHC's programs and services.

GHC officials are aiming to soft launch this clinic by June 3, with the hope of staffing it with nurse practitioners who are still being hired.

The facility is set to operate Monday to Friday (9 a.m.-4 p.m.) and will only offer same-day appointments at the beginning (no walk-in visits).

Sault Ste. Marie MPP Ross Romano made this announcement Wednesday afternoon in a virtual news conference alongside local healthcare officials and mayor Matthew Shoemaker.

The tone of this meeting was significantly more hopeful than a Jan. 25 news conference featuring these same individuals, where they announced that 10,000 patients (one sixth of GHC's overall roster) will lose access to primary care services as of May 31 due to a significant physician shortage.

While the new outpatient clinic is only a temporary solution to this ongoing problem, Romano said it does represent a positive development for patients who were worried about being completely cut off from primary care services as of Friday.

"These individuals will not have to lose their medical records. They will be maintained at the Group Health Centre and they will continue to be patients at the Group Health Centre," Romano said.

"I think this is extremely positive news and I'm very excited to be able to offer that to you today."

Dr. Jodie Stewart, CEO of Algoma District Medical Group, also took part in Wednesday's announcement and said the services provided through this new clinic will ensure that the emergency room at Sault Area Hospital isn't subjected to further backlog.

Also present during the meeting was GHC CEO Lil Silvano, who thanked members of the public for remaining patient over the last five months as they tried to come up with a solution.

“We acknowledge that the past several months have been difficult, and the prospect of not having a primary care provider has created a lot of uncertainty,” Silvano said in an accompanying news release.

“The new clinic will bridge the immediate needs of these impacted patients; however, this is just the first step in our long-term strategy to recruit and retain enough primary care providers for our community.”

Outside of thanking the province for providing this clinic funding, Romano used his public platform on Wednesday to praise local healthcare experts and city officials, who have been working tirelessly to find a solution to the issues that caused this mass derostering in the first place.

While the group's work is far from over, Romano said they'll already put a dent in the local recruitment and retention issue by successfully filling five vacant residency positions with NOSM University graduates.

These NOSM grads will officially fill these family medicine residency positions starting July 1.

"This is a significant step," Romano said.

"When we talk about recruitment of other family medical practitioners here in our community, being able to have these individuals complete their residencies in Sault Ste. Marie is a tremendous step towards being able to recruit more doctors for tomorrow."

The Sault MPP also took some time Wednesday to highlight the work of Doctors Kiran Waqas and Manjeet Singh, who are leaving GHC to set up their own independent medical clinic on 710 Second Line East.

The pair are aiming to open their new facility, Great Lakes Clinic, on June 4, with the hope of accommodating 3,000 GHC patients who are about to be derostered by the end of the week.

According to the clinic’s official website, Great Lakes will provide a wide variety of medical care, including walk-in services, family medicine, immunizations, childcare, chronic disease management, prescription renewals and treatment of non-critical injuries.

The new clinic also offers specialized health services for women, including breast exams, pregnancy tests, prenatal consultation and family planning services.

"We are working hard to recruit more physicians into the Great Lakes Clinic to start a family practice here," Waqas said in an accompanying news release from Romano's office. "In the next one to two years, we hope to be in a position to roster many more patients in our family practice."

While Shoemaker holds no illusions about the hard work that is ahead to secure better access to primary care in the Sault, he takes comfort in knowing that the new Access Care Clinic will provide some relief in the interim.

"This (clinic) allows those in the most precarious situation, at the end of this week, to breathe a little easier, knowing that they will be able to go to the same building that they have in the past and get services similar to how they have in the past," Shoemaker said on Wednesday.

"So thank you Ross, thank you to the Ministry of Health, and we will keep at it."

GHC was founded in 1963 as one of the first union-sponsored community health centers in Canada.

The centre currently employs 66 primary care physicians and nine nurse practitioners, according to its official website.

The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government

Kyle Darbyson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sault Star