BY ANDREW SMITH
LISTOWEL –Staffing changes at the Fisher Family Primary Care Centre may be causing frustration for some residents, but the North Perth Family Health Team assures patients they won’t be abandoned.
With the retirement of Dr. Barry Neable last December, approximately 1,500 patients were left without a doctor, according to NPFHT executive director Mary Atkinson. Since then, the NPFHT has been determining how those patients would be cared for moving forward.
That method has been outlined in a letter recently sent to patients, which explains whether or not they have been selected to be part of Dr. Lauren Hayward’s practice upon her arrival to the community in May. Atkinson said that although some patients may be without a doctor, it doesn’t mean they are without health care.
“When Dr. Neable announced his resignation, this group of physicians made a conscious decision to continue to care for all of his patients,” Atkinson said. “Some of them now don’t have a physician, but they will continued to be cared for at the clinic.”
Recruitment co-ordinator Kim Kowch explained the patients were selected through a computer-generated randomization, but Dr. Hayward made an effort to keep immediate family members under the same doctor.
“That randomization was done, but then she would consider the family members as part of that,” Kowch said. “[Dr. Hayward] was very concerned about being objective and that it was a fair process.”
Atkinson said the NPFHT was aware that Dr. Hayward wouldn’t be taking on all of Dr. Neable’s patients during the recruitment process, as new doctors coming out of school aren’t looking for that level of responsibility.
“I think we recognized that’s the reality of the current environment,” Atkinson said. “There’s a much stronger focus on work-life balance.”
Dr. Hayward has accepted a little more than half of Dr. Neable’s patients, Atkinson said, and she may be willing to take more patients as she becomes comfortable.
“She’s working to get her practice up and going, so that’s going to take some time,” she said.
Atkinson is aware of the anxiety felt in the community over Dr. Neable’s departure, but patients can continue to make appointments at the Fisher Family Primary Care Centre and be seen by another doctor or nurse practitioner as the schedule allows.
“There’s been a range of emotions, but I think we just reinforce that they will continue to be seen here and have their medical needs met,” Atkinson said. “Health care is never an issue until there’s a change, and then it’s a pretty emotionally charged issue.”
See PATIENTS, page 3
SThe letter to patients states physicians at the clinic are already working at full capacity, and enrollment is not guaranteed without an assigned family doctor. Patients are urged to either obtain a new doctor or nurse practitioner, or contact Health Care Connect, an initiative from the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care where patients are connected to health care providers based on their medical history and priority.
“If they’re pregnant and with small children, or very high complex needs, those are the patients that are triaged first,” Atkinson said. “That’s another service that the ministry has funded to try to get people attached to a physician.”
In the meantime, the NPFHT will continue its efforts to recruit additional physicians to meet the shortage in Listowel – a problem that has become all too familiar in communities across Ontario.
“This is a very real issue, and it’s not just us,” Atkinson said.