Family health team welcomes new nurse practitioner

Summer reporter
Stephanie Hagenaars

New changes have come to the Fort Frances Family Health Team (FHT), bringing more access for local and surrounding residents at a time that is seeing a shortage of doctors and overall health support.
FHT executive director Gerri Yerxa is very excited as the clinic has just announced a new website, as well as the hiring of a third nurse practitioner.
“Sandra Ottertail will start to see patients next week, so we’re really excited about that,” she said.
“What it does for our community is it just opens up more access to primary health care,” added Yerxa.
Ottertail is from northern Ontario, having grown up in Rainy River, and had lived in Dryden for the last eight years. She said she moved down to Fort Frances because of the opportunity with the family health team and because her daughter lives here and will be giving birth in December.
“I’m really excited to be part of a family health team,” said Ottertail. “Family health teams are amazing places to work.”
Nurse practitioners (NPs) are registered nurses who have additional education and nursing experience.
While they are not doctors, NPs offer primary care services and perform a lot of the same duties, such as order medications and testing, provide diagnoses and refer patients to a specialist.
“I think together, we do a really good job of looking after people,” said Marlyss Graham, an NP at the clinic. “I [an NP] do more education, they [the doctors] do more treatment.
“Just to kind of take a different look at the disease or the process or the patient and do whatever we can to look after them,” she added.
In addition to the three NPs, the Fort Frances FHT currently has a registered nurse, registered practical nurses, a dietician and mental health councillor.
Services provided include blood pressure monitoring, a diabetic foot care program and services, mental health, nutrition and smoking cessation, among others.
Family health teams are a combination of inter-professional health care providers that work collaboratively to help support patients with their medical needs in coordination with physicians.
“We do work together with the physicians as well, to help support patient needs,” said Yerxa.
For example, someone diagnosed with diabetes might have an appointment with a physician at the clinic but will have the patient visit the FHT next door for monitoring and support with diabetic foot care, or set them up with a dietician to support them with their food and lifestyle change needs.
“It’s really working collaboratively to help support the individual helping them to manage their illnesses and whatever they’re experiencing.” said Yerxa.
The local FHT is also celebrating their new sign on the front of the clinic and their website––which is live as of today (Aug. 29).
“It’s a new beginning for us,” said Amanda Meeks, FHT nursing supervisor and case manager.
“This is a complete new beginning for us with a new sign, new logo, new everything,” she added.
Many other members of the team repeated the sentiment, some stating that while the clinic provides “excellent services,” many throughout town may not know exactly what the local FHT does and the website will definitely help.
The site lists the programs and services offered by the clinic, as well as their descriptions, and appointment hours and patient feedback.
While the site does not currently offer online appointment services, Yerxa said it is something they will be exploring in the future. Currently, they are beginning with “secure patient messaging,” which will enable the team to communicate with patients through email.
Yerxa also said the clinic is looking into expanding their hours to accommodate an evening walk-in clinic two nights per week, though it is still in the planning stage.
“The individuals that are here have always provided an exceptional healthcare service to the community, but now it’s time to really show the community what they offer,” said Yerxa.
“We’ve expanded our services in terms of having an additional nurse practitioner on board.
“It’s also an opportunity to really show the community the value of the service that the individuals here offer,” she added.
“The staff are really invested in what they provide to the community and their just open to doing more to meet the need set of the community.”
For more information about programs and services offered throughout the Fort Frances Family Health Team, call 274-3287 or visit