Public offer their take on clinic issue Doctors respond

Whether they had concerns the town would be financing up to $1 million to purchase the clinic, they felt there was a lack of sufficient information on the issue, or concerned there’s no guarantees doctors either will come here or stay, some local residents were very vocal at Monday night’s council meeting.
Former town councillor Nick Wihnan asked why the town would want to spend a million dollars when it has its own “Santa Claus”—Kim Metke—offering to buy the Fort Frances Clinic.
This would leave that lump of money to be used directly for doctor recruitment efforts, something in which, as Wihnan pointed out GHA rep Greg Punch has admitted, GHA will not be directly involved.
“We’ve got to have holes in our heads if we go along with this,” Wihnan remarked.
Wihnan noted he also felt the public had been left out of the process, and that town council and/or the physicians had a “hidden agenda.”
“There is something going on that stinks,” he charged.
Another former councillor, Al Bedard, said he thought the public had been promised they would have further opportunity to learn about any clinic-related proposals and to offer input.
He argued that while the doctor shortage here has to be rectified, the public doesn’t want the town to spend any of its reserves on financing the purchase of the clinic.
“I’m not happy with council making a decision tonight,” said Bedard, adding there is “much the public doesn’t understand,” such as why wasn’t Metke’s proposal to buy the clinic accepted by the doctors.
He noted council should defer the vote and have another public meeting prior to making any final decision.
Melissa Pearson, meanwhile, said it seemed Monday that council has “already made up its mind,” adding citizens have not been given a chance to provide input, as they were promised at the Oct. 12 public meeting here.
“Remember, you were elected by the people of this town,” she warned.
Pearson said she felt the physicians may have a “conflict of interest of their own” in trying to sell off the clinic, in that they’re overworked, tired, and don’t want to be shareholders any more.
She added if council went ahead and passed the resolution before it Monday night, “the public will be on you about it.”
For his part, Ken Perry said the recruitment of doctors here is the paramount issue, and the town needs to save its money for recruitment and retention as opposed to buying bricks and mortar—especially when Metke was willing to buy the clinic.
But Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig, who also sits on the local physician recruitment and retention committee, spoke out in response to the repeated sentiment, noting recruitment efforts are ongoing—and will continue along with a “commitment of resources” even when GHA is running the clinic.
But the way the clinic model will change will make it easier to attract and keep physicians, he added.
McCaig stressed the proposed partnership with GHA was “not a knee-jerk reaction” to the doctor shortage crisis, but the result of many months of communication between the recruitment and retention committee, local physicians, and GHA—a process initiated by local doctors who had chosen GHA as what they felt was the suitable management model for the Fort Frances Clinic.
Summing up many of the comments made by those who stepped up to the podium Monday night, Coun. John Albanese asked why it seems there were so many questions unanswered at this time, such as how much the clinic is really worth and whether the town will be asked for more money for new equipment?
But McCaig stressed these questions will be answered when the town and its lawyers go through the process of structuring a financial agreement with the non-profit organization set up with the Group Health Association—which wouldn’t happen until council first agreed to pass the resolution for financing.
< *c>Doctors speak
One of the questions that surfaced repeatedly Monday night was why didn’t the local doctors want to entertain Metke’s offer to buy the clinic, renovate it or build a new one on that property, and have someone else—possibly even GHA—manage it.
Dr. Robert Algie said word that Metke wanted to buy the clinic “came along at the 11th hour” after the doctors and the town had been talking with GHA for seven or eight months.
He stressed that if council did not go ahead and work with GHA, it would not only mean a setback of up to a year in planning but the clinic would miss out on an entire graduating class of new doctors.
Dr. Algie added he also felt Metke may have a conflict of interest as a pharmacist running a clinic, in addition to the fact he felt Metke could not rent space at the clinic for less than the market rate that they could under non-profit status.
Dr. Jason Shack noted the clinic “needs to be a community venture,” adding “the whole point of restructuring is to build on the system we already have, with input from the community.”
This would mean forming a non-profit corporation, including GHA, council, physicians, and community reps, to own and oversee the clinic—not one private owner.
Dr. Elaine Spencer echoed this point, as well as the fact the physicians here have never expected GHA to be involved in recruitment.
This will continue to be the job of the local physician recruitment and retention committee, which includes representatives of the Town of Fort Frances, Fort Frances Clinic, Riverside Health Care Facilities, Inc., Abitibi-Consolidated, Rainy River Future Development Corp., and Rainy River District School Board.
All three doctors made it clear they supported selling the clinic off to the new non-profit corporation and have it managed by GHA.
Dr. Shack stressed nothing can go forward if council doesn’t make a decision, and felt time was of the essence when trying to recruit doctors, given the competition not only in the region but across the country. As he said at the Oct. 12 public meeting, he felt the town had much to offer prospective physicians if it only made the move to be more accommodating, not having them worry about the intricacies of running or managing a business, and letting them have a life outside working at the clinic.
“They don’t want to come into a system of turmoil,” stressed Dr. Shack.