Council to have to decide on clinic financing

Following a public meeting last Wednesday regarding the physician crisis here and the future of the Fort Frances Clinic, town council now has to decide whether it will finance the purchase of the clinic or not.
Coun. Todd Hamilton, who also sits on the local physician recruitment and retention committee, said he felt the direction council should go is very clear.
“We’re at a state now where council has to make a decision. And the decision is basically this: are we in support of financing this community project or are we not?
“To tell you the truth, if we don’t finance it, doctors are going to start to leave the community. That’s the bottom line,” Coun. Hamilton warned in an interview Friday afternoon.
“My opinion is we need to do this, and we need to do this now,” he stressed. “And that was the feeling around the table [at last week’s meeting].
“I can’t stress it enough. The Town of Fort Frances has to step forward and support this project by funding it.
“It’s going to be $1 million. A 15-year term at zero percent interest. It’s going to cost us about $24,000 a year to do this, which compared to having to bring in physicians on a bonusing system, we could pay upwards of $100,00 if we got into that.
Coun. Hamilton called this a very reasonable option.
“[The Group Health Association is] ready to go,” he said. “They’ve got tons of experience dealing with the Ministry of Health. And frankly, the doctors, our professionals, have identified and chosen them.
“Let’s get moving.”
Coun. Hamilton said it’s the doctors’ decision to go with GHA.
“Why wouldn’t they choose the best possible option?” he wondered. “The town now has a simple decision—do we finance this or not?
“I don’t think there’s an option. We must finance it, or there’s going to be people leaving.”
Coun. Hamilton even said there recently has been “strong interest” from three or four physicians who want to come to Fort Frances.
“And the first question they asked is ‘What’s the model?’” he noted. “They will not come unless the model is: no business buy-in, competitive rent, and sensible working hours.
“We’ve got a golden opportunity to have some physicians come to our community. And they won’t come if it’s doesn’t change and we don’t fund this opportunity,” he argued.
“Physicians are interested in coming. It’s a great place to live. But they’re not coming unless that model changes.”
“We have to do something in this community, and I’m in favour of us proceeding,” said Coun. Roy Avis, who attended last Wednesday’s meeting along with all the other councillors.
“It’s a very critical situation in Fort Frances right now with the doctor shortage,” he noted. “There’s a plan these doctors want to work under and we, as a community, have to step up.”
Although a proposal has come forth from local businessman Kim Metke to buy the clinic and lease it out, the only proposal Coun. Avis said he’s seen that covers the management aspect is the one from GHA.
“My mind is made up that we have to make a decision, and we have to make one very fast,” he remarked. “If I was to make one today, I would make the one with Group Health.”
Mayor Dan Onichuk said last week’s meeting was highly informative, but raised at least one more thing council has to consider before making any decisions.
“There was one component of the presentation by Group Health that council was not aware of, and that was initially they were looking at the town doing financing, and that has turned to what sounded like a partnership,” he said during an interview Monday.
“They can’t outright buy [the clinic] because of their non-profit status, which makes sense to me,” added Mayor Onichuk. “From the town’s perspective, we’re not sure what they’re looking for now.”
But he noted everyone seems to agree that something must be done.
“We’ve got a problem and it’s only going to grow,” the mayor stressed. “There is a sense of urgency obviously. We have to move forward sooner than later.
“It seems like the long-term planning dictates we have to seriously investigate putting together a Family Health Team so we can bring in more health care professionals in,” he added.
“As far as buying the bricks and mortar, and buying out the doctors’ shares, we need to see a formal proposal from Group Health.”
The mayor noted he also wants to see if Metke, who put in the letter of intent to buy the clinic and lease it out, is working on “securing somebody to run the clinic, manage it, and put together a Family Health Team.”
Mayor Onichuk added he’s going to be calling a special council meeting later this week “to talk about what our next move is.”
Town council passed a motion at its Sept. 26 meeting to support, in principle, the Group Health Association’s proposal to take over management of the Fort Frances Clinic.