Sunday, April 14, 2024

Doctors, officials want team-based primary care funding equal in Perth

“We have a passionate and committed interest in seeing both our FHOs remain in our community and be successful.”

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Doctors, patients and local officials from Perth are pleading with the Ontario government to reconsider its decision to award more than $3.1 million in funding to one of the town’s two family health organizations and no money to the other one. They want the money, part of a province-wide team-based care funding initiative, shared equally.

The decision, those involved say, will destabilize primary health care in the town and its surrounding area and result in unequal access to care for many residents. It could lead to the loss of desperately needed primary care for some, one town official says.

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One of two large primary care clinics in Perth — the Tay River Family Health Organization — is at risk of having to cease operations without any of the recent investment from the province, Perth Chief Administrative Officer Michael A. Touw warned in a recent letter to Health Minister Sylvia Jones.

Touw urged the health minister to meet with the town and the Tay River Family Health Organization to consider redistributing funding in Perth to both family health organizations instead of just the Perth Family Medicine team.

“While we appreciate that health care is a federal and provincial responsibility, the Town of Perth believes so strongly in health care for our aging population that we have been contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to local health care as well, unfortunately, we cannot come close to closing that gap. We have a passionate and committed interest in seeing both our FHOs remain in our community and be successful,” Touw wrote.

Earlier in February, Ontario announced it would invest $90 million in “the largest expansion of interprofessional primary-care teams since they were established in Ontario.” The teams will eventually include family physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners and other health professionals.

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A spokesperson for the health minister’s office said they received an overwhelming number of applications from across the province. “Ontario Health and the Ministry of Health worked to extensively review applications and determine which proposals were ready to begin connecting more Ontarians to care immediately,” Hannah Jensen said.

John Jordan, the Progressive Conservative MPP for Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston, said the investment of more than $3.1 million to Perth Family Medicine would help about 3,500 residents access primary care.

Dr. Taylor Ferrier perth
Dr. Taylor Ferrier is medical director of the Tay River Health Centre. Photo by Tay River Family Health Organization /Handout

But physicians who work at Tay River Health Centre are among those asking why that organization was not considered for the funding that it also applied for. The inequity of the decision will create an imbalance and reduce access to care for many, they say.

“We think it is a gross oversight,” said Dr. Taylor Ferrier, medical director of the Tay River Health Centre. “All patients in Perth deserve this level of funding and support.”

He added: “We are not disappointed that another group is receiving funding, but it does not make any sense to anyone involved how 10,000 plus patients can be excluded (from this funding). The tipping of scales is going to cause inequality in our town is going to have a horrible ripple effect.”

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Among other things, Ferrier said, it will make it difficult to retain doctors, nurses and other support staff.

Dr. Jade Sillick Tay River Health Centre
Dr. Jade Sillick of the Tay River Health Centre. Photo by Tay River Family Health Organization /Handout

One of the physicians at the clinic, Dr. Jade Sillick, in a letter to the health minister said: “We were so excited about this incredible opportunity for our patients in a time when, quite frankly, there hasn’t been much in health care to be excited about. To say that we are disappointed to have been overlooked for this funding is an understatement. Unfortunately, as you know, health care in its current state is just not sustainable.”

Others from the clinic said in letters to the health minister that the decision would likely force them to leave the practice, abandoning some patients.

Ferrier and others from the clinic said they had spoken frequently with MPP Jordan about their concerns.

In an interview, Jordan called the funding for primary health care in the town really good news and said Perth was fortunate to be getting the support, especially in the form of interdisciplinary care.

He said he had expressed concerns to Ontario Health that “there is some dichotomy present” when it came to primary health funding in the town. He said he was anxious to work with Ontario Health to make sure everybody could benefit from it.

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Meanwhile, the province says the Sharbot Lake Family Health Team, which was part of the Tay River proposal, will receive a $20,000 funding boost because it is one of the province’s existing teams.

A spokesperson for the Perth Family Health team referred media calls to the health ministry.

Tay River Health Centre
An artist’s depiction of the Tay River Health Centre. Photo by Tay River Family Health Organization /Handout

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