Council votes to finance clinic purchase

Council decided Monday night that the town will provide up to $1 million in financing over 15 years at zero percent interest to a non-profit corporation, under the direction of the Group Health Association, to purchase the Fort Frances Clinic and manage it.
And as reflected in the 5-2 vote, the majority of council feels the town’s on the right path to changing the operating model of the Fort Frances Clinic in the hopes of retaining the doctors already here—and recruiting new ones.
Coun. Todd Hamilton, who also sits on the local physician recruitment and retention committee and brought forth the resolution Monday night, said he’s looking forward to moving ahead now.
“I’m very positive. I think it’s going to work out well,” he said. “We’ve gone through a lot of paralysis by analysis in the last few months, and the doctors have been very patient, supportive, and helpful.”
While some members of the public, including a handful who spoke at Monday night’s meeting, have asked why it seemed council’s decision is being rushed, Coun. Hamilton said the public has to realize council and local physicians have been talking about GHA since February, and that council had to make a decision and pass a resolution sooner than later.
“What the Group Health Association will do, in conjunction with the non-profit, and the doctors, and the community, is they have to move forward in lockstep with the application to the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care for the Family Health Team,” he explained.
“There’s a deadline for applications, and the processes that it goes through,” he added. “If we held off on this any longer, we were going to miss our deadlines.
“The doctors have been patiently working with us for eight months. This is finally an answer we’ve given them—Yes, we’ll go forward with this.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Coun. Hamilton admitted. “But we’re moving forward. We don’t want to miss our window of opportunity.”
Coun. Hamilton said he stood by the fact the resolution he brought forth was based on input from local physicians.
“It’s got nothing to do with anybody else that was interested,” he stressed. “Our local physicians are our experts. We trust them with our health care. We’ve trusted them for 50 years with the group that’s there. And they presented this in a very positive manner.
“It’s going to point us in the right direction for retention and recruitment,” he argued. “We’ll have the proper model. I trusted them when I had an illness, and I trust them now.
“We’ll all be sitting around in a few years really pleased that we did this,” Coun. Hamilton predicted.
The next step is for council to take an executive role, he said.
“We’ll task our administrator, and Group Health will task their administrator, to get together, formulate the financing agreement, start laying out the framework for the non-profit corporation, which Group Health has said they’re going to do for us.
“And then eventually, with respect to the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care, we’ll have the Group Health Centre guiding our non-profit into a family health team,” said Coun. Hamilton.
“It’s a long and arduous process, but we’ll get there.”
Coun. Hamilton also said the financing deal for an amount up to $1 million may not even end up costing taxpayers anything—if the physician recruitment and retention committee can work out a deal with Riverside Health Care Facilities, Inc.
Each year until 2018, the town gives La Verendrye Hospital a $67,000 capital grant. But it may be possible, said Coun. Hamilton, that Riverside will be willing to give back $24,000 of that money each year to the town, thus defraying the lost interest on the possible $1 million loan.
“I can’t speak for the hospital, but I know the hospital board would be very interested in helping us out,” he remarked. “The impact to the taxpayer would be zero.”
“My opinion is the information I have . . . would indicate to me Group Health is the way to go,” Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft said Tuesday, adding he’s taken into account input from the public, particularly those who attended the info session held here Oct. 12, as well as the GHA and local physicians.
Coun. Wiedenhoeft said GHA has a reputation that brought him to this conclusion.
“They have run for almost 42 years. They have a marvelous reputation. They’ve been written up in medical journals by Roy Romanow when he did his cross-country health analysis,” he reasoned.
“Plus, they have something that can be put in place right away,” he added. “And if we don’t do something in the very near future, then we are going to be in a crisis situation.”
While Coun. Wiedenhoeft admitted he would have like to have given local businessman Kim Metke more time to develop an official proposal and get more feedback from the public, he’s confident council made the right choice Monday night.
“I am of a mind Group Health Association offers us the most effective model we can have at this time before we get into a crisis situation,” he remarked.
“There was some talk of Group Health not doing the recruitment and retention of doctors [on Monday night], and I really feel the model, in and of itself, along with the quality of this community, is going to attract doctors to this community.
“And the quality of the community will retain doctors in this community. If we can get them here, we can hold them,” he stressed.
Coun. Roy Avis said there were a couple reasons why he voted in favour of the resolution Monday night.
“One, it’s being formed by a non-profit corporation, not just one owner. It’s going to be owned by the community, and community-based,” he explained.
“The other reason is the expertise they have in the health field, and the critical situation we have with doctors at the present time,” added Coun. Avis. “The model they’ll work under will help to recruit new doctors to this community.”
He noted local physicians acted as “a resource board” to council, were instrumental in bringing a package forward to partner with Group Health, and he trusts in their judgment as a solution to the physician shortage.
Likewise, Coun. Tannis Drysdale said she felt council had to trust the local physicians in their advice to team up with the Group Health Association, adding that group has a reputation that speaks for itself.
She added although GHA will not be involved with doctor recruitment directly, the fact they’re managing the clinic will draw more physicians here.
And once a Family Health Team model is in place, the use of allied support personnel (such as nurse practitioners, dietitians, pediatrists, etc.) that model allows for will help make up for any lack of physicians, if that remains a problem.
Coun. Drysdale also said she felt the cost of the financing—the possible loss of interest in the amount of $24,000—was “minuscule,” especially considering that accounts for one-10th of one percent of last year’s municipal budget ($19.5 million).