Thousands of Peterborough residents without a family doctor could soon get access to primary care if the province agrees to fund proposals for a community health centre and a new nurse practitioner-led clinic in the city.
The community health centre would be a first of its kind in Peterborough and would serve up to 6,000 marginalized people, as Currents has reported.
The nurse practitioner-led clinic, which is being proposed by three local nurses and the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON), would serve as many as 3,000 patients, according to Peterborough This Week. The clinic would be located at 555 Bonaccord Street and would prioritize families with children, including vulnerable children and youth, This Week reported. (VON declined Currents’ request for an interview at this time).
But those two local proposals are facing stiff competition for funding from other groups in the province.
The groups are all vying for $60 million over two years that the provincial government has earmarked for new interprofessional primary care teams across Ontario. The money is intended to give more people, especially the most vulnerable, access to primary care. The health ministry invited groups to submit proposals for how they would use the money last month, with a decision expected this fall.
Some healthcare leaders called the move a positive first step, but said it falls short of what’s needed to close the gap in primary care. In a press release, the Ontario College of Family Physicians said the funding “will not be enough to meet current demand and needs.”
Suzanne Galloway, a consultant who prepared the application for Peterborough’s proposed community health centre, agreed. She told Currents in May that it’s “exciting” to see new primary care funding, but said the amount “is a drop in the bucket” compared to what’s needed. Peterborough’s proposed community health centre alone would cost $8.2 million a year to operate — more than a quarter of what the government has pledged for the entire province per year. VON has not said publicly how much it requested to operate the proposed nurse practitioner-led clinic.
Need for more primary care in Peterborough “desperate”
Peterborough already has one nurse practitioner-led clinic — the 360 Degree Nurse Practitioner-Led Clinic, located in Peterborough Square. That clinic is seeking to grow so it can serve more people, but has been turned down for additional funding from Ontario’s health ministry in the past, according to Kirsten Woodend, chair of the clinic’s board of directors.
“It’s going to take lots of expansion I think to meet the gap in Peterborough,” said Woodend, who is also a professor emeritus with the Trent/Fleming School of Nursing. “The need for primary care in our community is desperate to say the least.”
The 360 Clinic began an application for some of the new provincial funding, but decided to hold off for now, she said. The clinic serves many marginalized people with complex needs, but the intensity of care they require isn’t reflected in the clinic’s funding levels, she said. So now the plan is to collect better data on the degree of patient need in order to make a stronger case for additional provincial funding to expand, Woodend said. “In order to have a successful fight for expansion, the first step… is actually to get better data to build a good argument.”
Meantime, Woodend is hoping some of the $60 million the province has pledged for primary care will flow to Peterborough – whether to a new community health centre, a nurse practitioner clinic, or both. “Any players that come on the scene are welcome,” she said.
But she said money alone won’t solve the primary care shortage. Another major challenge will be recruiting doctors and nurse practitioners to fill any new positions created in Peterborough, Woodend said. That’s something she said has been a challenge for the 360 Clinic. “We have gone through some periods in the last few years where we have not managed to fill our positions for periods of time.”
She said healthcare providers in the region need to come together and create a plan to end the primary care shortage. “We really, really, really need a good plan for Peterborough writ large,” she said. “We’re sort of throwing things at the problem without really doing a good assessment of what Peterborough needs the most.”
“Through collaboration, maybe we can come some way closer to offering a more integrated and more visionary service.”
Local Progressive Conservative MPP Dave Smith, who has expressed support for the community health centre proposal, did not respond to Currents’ interview request for this story.
In a previous interview with Currents, Smith suggested the PC government may offer additional funding for interprofessional primary care teams in the future.
“If [the proposed community health centre] is not successful in this first round … we have the ability then to make adjustments to the proposal so that we’re in a better position as we move forward,” he said.