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Concerning regional health stats released

The Town of Fort Frances is finding itself above a number of national and provincial averages, and work is being done to bring some of those numbers down.

At last week's town council meeting, councillor Wendy Brunetta provided an update to council from the clinic board. As part of her update, she noted that the board reviewed its annual operating plan submission, which contained a number of statistics that Brunetta felt compelled to share with council.

“Within the Rainy River district there is a population of 21,170 people, with 22.3 percent of that number identifying as Indigenous and four percent Metis,” Brunetta began.

“That's compared to the national average of only 2.8, so you can see we're almost ten times the amount of Indigenous and Metis people. We have the fourth lowest population density of any district in the province, and there's a greater proportion of population over 65 years of age in our district. In our district it's 19 percent and in the North West LHIN (Local Health Integration Network) catchment area it's 17 percent, and the province is actually 16 percent. This is also true for the population over the age of 75, with us having eight percent, and the North West LHIN and the province both at seven percent.”

According to their website, the North West LHIN is a non-profit organization that works with health care providers, communities and the public to set priorities and plan health services in northwestern Ontario. They are also responsible for allocating funding for health services in northwestern Ontario, including hospitals, community support service organizations, long-term care homes, community health centres and community mental health and addictions agencies.

Brunetta continued to explain that the Rainy River District is seeing 32.9 percent of the population over the age of 65 living alone, a number that is a third higher than the provincial rate and 10 percent higher than the North West LHIN rate.

“This is an important statistic because living alone is a strong indicator for potential senior isolation, which can negatively impact physical and mental health, increases the risk of mortality, contributes to cognitive decline and risk of dementia and is a major risk factor for depression among other health issues,” Brunetta said.

“Also when compared to the province, our residents have higher rates of arthritis, high blood pressure, as well as higher rates of smokers and heavy drinkers and higher body mass index rates than the provincial averages.”

Additionally, our mortality rate is higher than the provincial average, our life expectancy at birth is 5.3 percent lower, and our life expectancy at 65 is 7.4 percent lower.

“Based on rates for 100,000 population, deaths from all cases is 34 percent higher in the northwest health unit catchment area,” Brunetta explained.

“And the rate of premature mortality is 60 percent higher when compared to the province.”

As the town and district have faced a number of doctor shortages in the area over the years, the fact that not everyone in the district has regular routine access to a physician in order to address health issues could be a factor in the higher than average numbers. However, Brunetta stressed that the numbers are not a scare tactic, but a metric by which to start addressing problems.

“I'm not telling you all this information to make you feel awful,” she said.

“I just want to let you know that we as a clinic board are very aware of these statistics and our staff are working very hard to bring some of these statistics down to or below the provincial average. The purpose of putting this information in our annual submission was to advocate for additional health care services that will assist in many of these areas. We're hopeful that sharing this information with the province will help them see the urgent healthcare needs we have in this area. As a board, we continue to advocate for provincial support and funding.”

On a related note, Brunetta provided an update from the doctor recruitment and retention committee, who held their first meeting since February on September 24.

“As Councillor Wiedenhoeft had previously reported, we've had three new physicians start since that day,” Brunetta said.

“However, because of retirements and some doctors leaving, we're still looking for three more family practice doctors and two GP-anesthetists. We are also short on locum housing, so if anyone out there has an apartment available to rent, please contact our recruiter Todd Hamilton at 274-3266.”

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