Public meeting planned on clinic’s future

Offering a possible solution to the doctor shortage here, a non-profit organization has approached the Town of Fort Frances about taking over management of the Fort Frances Clinic.
Town council passed a resolution at its regular meeting Monday night approving, in principle, the intent to give the proposal by the Group Health Association of Sault Ste. Marie “thorough consideration.”
Now the public is being encouraged to attend a meeting next month—tentatively slated for Oct. 12—to find out more about the Group Health Association and what its proposal includes.
“What this public meeting is about is because we’ve been asked to commit certain funds, we feel a need to go to the public,” Mayor Dan Onichuk said in an interview after Monday night’s council meeting.
“We’re going to put together this public meeting, have the debate, get input from the public, and then ultimately, based on the response we get there and the advice of our [legal] counsel and so on, would like to move forward to try to make the environment in Fort Frances, particularly with the doctors as it relates to the clinic, work better,” he added.
“It is significant dollars we’re talking about here. The public should pay attention and should be at that public meeting,” stressed Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft.
He added while no figures could be divulged prior to that meeting, at least some will be revealed at that time.
Clerk Glenn Treftlin said Tuesday the public meeting will be scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 12. If that can’t be arranged, the alternate date would be Monday, Oct. 17.
Based on the model similar to the one described by Jim Neufeld, clinic administrator of the Wiebe Medical Centre in Winkler, Man., during a presentation to town council here back in March, the local clinic would be purchased (with the Town of Fort Frances as a major “financing authority”) and restructured.
“What it means at the end of the day is the doctors flow in,” Mayor Onichuk said. “They’re not buying into a business. They just come in, they’re renting space.
“They’re not asked to be a manager and get involved in a corporation,” he added, noting the Group Health Association would “put together a family health team, which in the view of doctors, and a lot of us, would help encourage a more inviting atmosphere for doctors to come into.”
“As we all know, everybody across this country is fighting for doctors. So whatever the environment they come into, the easier it is for them, the better,” argued the mayor.
“For somebody fresh out of school, or out of residency, to have to pony up and buy into a business just to become a doctor is a difficult situation,” he remarked.
Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig, who sits on the local physician recruitment and retention committee along with Mayor Onichuk, Coun. Todd Hamilton, and representatives from the Fort Frances Clinic, Riverside Health Care Facilities, Inc., and Abitibi-Consolidated, noted Tuesday it’s crucial the town explore this new model for running the clinic here.
“We’re cognizant of retaining the doctors that we do have and realize the onerous burden they have right now because of the current shortage,” he noted.
“We want to make the model more attractive to prospective doctors that may want to relocate to Fort Frances, and make things more desirable to our current complement of doctors in terms of working atmosphere.
“If the Town of Fort Frances doesn’t do something to address the ongoing vitality of our health care programs, especially as they relate to our complement of doctors, who’s going to?” McCaig added.
“We believe we have a very important role to play in this process, and that it’s incumbent upon us get involved and make sure that our citizens’ health care services are protected for the long-term,” he stressed.