The North Star


10 000 patients dropped by Health centre in the Sault

“Unfortunately, this is gonna get worse and worse”

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Ten thousand Sault Ste. Marie patients will be without a family doctor and same-day clinic services come May 31 as the city's Group Health Centre (GHC) reckons with a system-wide shortage of doctors and nurse practitioners.

United Steelworkers (USW) Local 2251 President Mike Da Prat is one of the patients being dropped. Da Prat told North Star that the 800,000-dollar construction cost of the GHC in the 1960s was funded mainly by USW membership based on a promise of lifetime enrolment for retirees. Indeed, the GHC was founded in 1963 as one of Canada's first union-sponsored community health centres at a time before public health insurance existed.

Da Prat told North Star that "if it became necessary for them to reduce [the number of enrolled patients], they should have reduced new enrollees into the Group Health Centre. Not the way they did it based on your doctor and taking out some of the people who actually built the place. [...] They should have made a decision based on 'the latest in, the first out'."

Dr. David Barber of the Ontario Medical Association told North Star that this isn't a unique situation; 25% of Ontarians are expected to be without a primary care provider by 2026. More healthcare providers are retiring than entering the field, and fewer medical students are choosing to pursue the paperwork-heavy career of family practice. 

Image from Group Health Centre website

Dropped patients in the city will have to resort to overburdened walk-in clinics and emergency rooms to get referred for services such as X-rays and physiotherapy or even to refill their prescriptions.

$1.1 million of a recent 110 million-dollar provincial investment by the province will be going to the Sault with the intent of connecting 4,450 patients with primary care. This seems to be a band-aid for a serious infection, considering that 10,000 patients are being dropped in one fell swoop and the OMA is reporting that 40% of doctors in Ontario are considering retirement within 5 years. 

Meanwhile, nurse practitioners, who aren't subject to the same regulations as doctors, are opening private clinics. Dr. Barber told North Star that private clinics are "charging hundreds of dollars for a physical, or even just visits." He continued, "I had a patient who needed a scope, so they went to Montreal. They paid $2,000 for a scope because of the wait times. [...] The wealthy people are going to find ways."

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