Patient care at clinic gets boost

FORT FRANCES—Thanks to the efforts of the Fort Frances Family Health Team, clinic physicians have a new staff member who will help them better meet the primary health care demands of patients and reduce wait times.
Nurse practitioner Nicole Therrien started her job with the Fort Frances Community Clinic on Monday, and is getting ready to start providing a wide range of services for patients.
“I’m really happy to be here, to work with the physicians and to be part of the starting of the Family Health Team program,” said Therrien, who most recently worked as a nurse practitioner in Rainy River for the past eight years.
“It’s one of the reasons I applied for the job,” she added. “It’s brand new, it’s a challenge. It’s going to be fantastic for the community.
“Right now, I want people to know me, get used to me, and get that trust.
“Once patients have that trust, it’s easy,” smiled Therrien. “We’ll be busy after that.”
A nurse practitioner is a nurse with advanced education in primary health care. Their role is to emphasize health promotion and disease prevention in collaboration with their clients and a variety of other health-care professionals.
Therrien will perform a wide range of services covering aspects of what both nurses and physicians do, including:
•health assessments (taking down a client’s family and medical history, doing complete physical examinations, and ordering lab tests, X-rays, and ultrasounds);
•preventative care (immunizations, screening tests, teaching health, lifestyle counselling);
•sexual health (teach about puberty and safer sex practices, test for sexually-transmitted diseases, and give prescriptions for STDs);
•diagnosis and treatment of minor injuries and minor illnesses, ranging from strep throat and ear infections to stomach problems and skin infections (they also can give out some prescriptions and monitor chronic conditions like arthritis, diabetes, and blood pressure);
•women’s health (PAP tests for all females who are sexually active, breast examinations, birth control counselling and prescriptions, and pregnancy diagnosis);
•men’s health (discuss prostate exams and prostate specific antigen testing);
•mental health care (stress management, helping clients adjust to living with chronic illness, and monitoring ongoing problems with depression and addiction); and
•referrals to traditional healers, diabetic educators, speech therapists, foot care specialists, physicians, dietitians, and counsellors.
Therrien will not be replacing patients’ family doctors, however, and cannot prescribe narcotics or change or renew medications for chronic conditions, like high blood pressure or diabetes.
“I have specific guidelines in my practice which I have to follow,” she stressed. “If somebody comes to see me and it’s out of my guidelines, then I have to consult with the physicians.
“With the new system here, we have a physician I can consult as needed during the day,” she noted. “They can see the patient if I need them to see the patient. Or I’ll refer them to the doctor in the next day or so.”
Therrien explained that being a nurse practitioner means you’re a nurse first, and there’s a significant education component to what she does.
“If we have a patient who is not really conforming to what they should do, or doesn’t understand what they should do, my role is to teach them the reason why we want them to pay attention to their blood sugar or their blood pressure or their weight,” she remarked.
“I do lots of prevention.”
Dr. Robert Algie said Therrien will be taking appointments just as if she was one of the eight physicians at the clinic. If a registered patient calls the clinic and wants an appointment, they can choose to make it with their family doctor or with Therrien (whoever has an opening).
“One of the big things we hope is for acute illnesses and some of the walk-in type stuff that’s currently going over to the emergency department [at the hospital] to stay here,” Dr. Algie noted.
He said having Therrien on board will be a tremendous advantage in meeting the primary health care needs of patients.
“One of the biggest problems is routine wait times for primary care here is three-four months right now, and it’s because of the physicians’ obligations outside of the office and in emergency,” he explained.
“Nicole’s being here will hopefully shorten those wait times significantly, and allow us to see our patients more promptly.
“Nicole can do a wide range of what we do, and there will still be means for us to see our patients from time to time, as well. For instance, there’s probably times when my patients will see Nicole and other times when they’re seeing me,” added Dr. Algie.
“A lot of people will find Nicole [is] more accessible, but I’ll be in the background if I’m needed.”
John McTaggart, chair of the Fort Frances Community Clinic Inc. board, said the board has submitted its plan for the Fort Frances FHT to the province for approval.
But in advance of that, it was able to access “early win” funding to hire a nurse practitioner for the clinic here.
“We’re looking to cut wait times and definitely improve the level of readiness to see patients,” McTaggart noted, adding the first priority of the local FHT is to increase access to physicians and nurse practitioners for routine primary care.
Eventually, once the FHT plan is approved and the operating model fully implemented, he said a second nurse practitioner will be hired.
McTaggart also noted the Fort Frances Community Clinic Inc. board is appreciative of the support local physicians have given to the NP position.
“The community clinic hasn’t completed the deal with the physicians, so at this point, they’re giving the space to the nurse practitioner,” he explained.
“It was the potential to be involved in a Family Health Team that really brought our colleagues on board with this,” said Dr. Algie. “Hopefully, the government’s going to support us and we’ll get on a roll and get Nicole some colleagues in addition to physicians.”
“This is one of the real advantages of going to the Family Health Team, that we’re able to have Nicole here and the government funding that made that possible,” stressed McTaggart.
“We really expect great things from the Family Health Team and Fort Frances Community Clinic.”
“This system is being used elsewhere in the province and it’s working very well,” noted Therrien. “People are very happy with it and I think it’s a plus.”
There currently are 150 Family Health Teams under development in Ontario, including the regional communities of Dryden, Kenora, and Thunder Bay.