THUNDER BAY -- Patients living in Thunder Bay and the surrounding areas now have more options when it comes to sexual healthcare. Local doctor Dr. Annabella Zawada opened Umbrella Medical Clinic three months ago, hoping to fill the gaps in sexual healthcare provided in the region.
Dr. Zawada moved back to Thunder Bay in 2015 after working in Terrace Bay for a decade and was surprised by the “extremely limited services” available in the city for sexual health in particular.
She had trained in Toronto, where there were a wider range of services available, and she started thinking about how she could make that happen here in this city.
Other than acute needs such as transgender healthcare, (“NorWest Community Centres are doing their best, but they have an extensive wait time,”) access to abortion medication and PrEP, (pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV) Dr. Zawada saw that patients were waiting a long time to get an appointment with their family doctor to obtain or change their contraception, or were referred to specialists and forced to wait weeks and months for an appointment.
After getting no financial support from government, she eventually partnered with Oak Medical Arts to open the clinic. Located on the first floor of the Thunder Bay Medical Centre on Algoma st., the clinic is open five days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and patients can call ahead to make an appointment (same-day and next-day appointments are available) or just walk in.
The clinic can prescribe contraception including emergency contraception (such as “the morning after pill,”) test for STIs, give vaccines, do IUD insertions and removals, provide referrals for pre-natal care and transgender healthcare. Any kind of surgical procedures (such as vasectomies or tubal ligation) would be referred to a surgeon.
Even if you have a family doctor, you can still access services at Umbrella Medical Clinic. “Pretty much anybody who would like to come see us is welcome,” says Dr. Zawada, noting that the clinic sees quite a few international students who have third-party insurance coverage.
Patients with OHIP are welcome, as well as First Nations patients who do not live in the city. “We really just want to help people. Even if you don’t have coverage at all, if you need emergency sexual healthcare, we’ll figure it out,” she says. Minors can come in without a parent or guardian, and consultations and test results will remain confidential.
“We’ve been very lucky that the medical community, both nurse practitioners and family physicians, have been referring clients to me and to our clinic, because they see that there’s a need for what we’re doing,” she says.
Currently, Dr. Zawada and head nurse Aldona Valiunas see all the patients. They could see 30 or 40 patients a day, but their goal is not just to push people through the doors.
“Sexual health is not something that’s easy to discuss for a lot of people, so we want to make sure we form that relationship where they’re comfortable telling us, because really, our goal is to help them achieve their goals, whatever those are. If you don’t have a welcoming, relaxing environment, it makes it more difficult for everybody,” Dr. Zawada explains.