THUNDER BAY – The Lakehead Nurse Practitioner-Led Clinic has submitted yet another request for provincial funding for an expansion of service.
Established in 2007 and located on the former McKellar Hospital property, the LNPLC currently serves 3,200 people who don't have a family doctor. Over the years, clinic officials say, they have made numerous requests to the provincial government for additional funding.
Administrator Kyle Jessiman said adding two nurse practitioners to the existing complement of four would allow the clinic to increase its operating hours and serve another 1,600 patients.
"When it was built it was built with the space to house six NPs. It was funded for a level of four, but we've continued to advocate to have these extra staff," he said.
The clinic is comprised of an inter-professional primary care team, which means patients can access other health-care providers and services including a dietician, a social worker, consulting physicians, psychiatry, foot care and respiratory care.
Jessiman said it's a cost-effective system.
"Evidence is coming out all the time now that this is the more modern and effective way to deliver care. Not to take away from any providers who are doing primary care, but it takes the burden off of them."
He added that nurse practitioner clinics allow for internal referrals while giving patients quicker access to a nurse for any minor concerns without having to wait to see a doctor.
Clinic staff are paid via salary rather than fee-for-service, resulting in costs to the Lakehead clinic of $400 per patient per year, compared with an average cost of $800 for one visit to a hospital emergency department.
The LNPLC this month applied both to the Ministry of Health and the North West Local Health Integration Network for funding for two additional nurse practitioners.
After unsuccessful attempts in previous years, Jessiman hopes that a recent change in provincial policy has opened the door to funding this time.
"We know that there is still a shortage of primary care providers in Thunder Bay, and people are constantly applying at all the clinics here, but they don't have the capacity, so we want to help with that shortage by getting the extra positions here," he said.
Jessiman said the 200 people currently on his own clinic's waiting list do not come close to reflecting the community's needs.
As chair of the Thunder Bay Physician Recruitment and Retention Council, he's aware that all local clinics have full patient loads and have people approaching them daily to sign up with a doctor.
He said if funding came through for the LNPLC, it would be able to accept additional patients as well as expanding access for all patients by providing more walk-clinics at more convenient times, such as evening hours.
In a statement provided to Tbnewswatch, a Ministry of Health spokesperson said the proposed expansion "is being actively considered" by the ministry.