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March 25, 2024

Letter to the Editor: Will the inter-professional primary care funding be enough?

Tired hospital worker

LETTER TO THE EDITOR — The province announced a $110 million investment to create new and expanded inter-professional primary care teams. Our MPP, Rick Byers, says our share is $1,695,000, which is less than 2% of the total. Mr. Byers said it will help connect, “approximately 4,000 unattached patients in Durham, Markdale, Meaford, Owen Sound, Saugeen Shores and Wiarton.” Specifically, a new Indigenous primary-care team in the Saugeen First Nation, a new nurse practitioner-led clinic in Owen Sound, and a mobile clinic on the Bruce Peninsula will be created. In addition, $20 million will be given to all existing inter-professional primary-care teams to help them pay increased operational costs and supplies. This is welcome but it is far too little too late. Let’s look at one example.

I attended a presentation by Alex Hector, Executive Director of the South East Grey Community Health Centre (SEGCHC). This inter-professional health team opened in 2011 but has not had any increase to its base funding for 10 years! Its funding formula means it does not charge OHIP, can’t hire new doctors nor pay wage increases for staff. What is its share of the $20 million just announced? Will it be enough to cover the accumulated 10 years of increased operational and supply costs? Is this new funding a one time event? What is the Ministry’s plan to cover inflationary costs of any existing or new health team? Where is the long term planning to fund appropriate wage increases in this model of primary care delivery so that every CHC can continue to keep staff and meet the needs of burgeoning rural populations?

The SEGCHC serves the Township of Chatsworth, Municipality of Grey Highlands, Town of Southgate and part of West Grey. Currently 4,400 in this area plus 29,000 elsewhere in Grey Bruce have no access to primary care. SEGCHC needs two more doctors to meet its current need and they have found two physicians willing to join their team. However, they can’t be hired due to no funding. The funding formula for CHCs must change. The latest estimate is the government’s reserve fund is $4.4 billion. One billion is equal to a thousand millions. This reserve is mainly unspent health transfer dollars. Healthcare is in crisis. Why don’t they spend the reserves?

Large housing developments are popping up all over Grey Bruce. According to the Ontario College of Family Physicians there are 2.3 million in the province who don’t have a family doctor and that number could grow to 4.4 million by 2026. So far this year 108 family medicine residencies are unfilled as students opt out of primary care as a career. Minister Jones said the $110M will add to the province, ”over 400 new primary-care providers as part of 78 new expanded inter professional primary-care teams.” Our province is vast and given the existing staff shortages these numbers do not solve the lack of primary care. The Government needs to incentivize medical students to choose primary care.

Furthermore, nurse practitioners are a valuable resource but they are not a replacement for a doctor. They should be paid by OHIP, but, the government refuses. New nurse practitioner clinics are charging a yearly fee per patient, which can add up to thousands for a family. These fees are against the Canada Health Act because medically necessary care must be paid by OHIP. Why is the government allowing these fees? Why should some Canadians have OHIP access to primary care while some people are forced to pay with their credit card or do without? We need solutions not bandaids, misleading statements and false hope from Minister of Health Sylvia Jones.

Norah Beatty
Grey Bruce Health Coalition

 


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