The woman who heads up the Sudbury District Nurse Practitioner Clinics (SDNPC) told a Queen's Park standing committee Monday that more provincial funding directed to nurse practitioner clinics could help address the problem of too many patients and not enough doctors in Ontario.
Jennifer Clement, the executive director of the SDNPC said the shortage of primary health care providers in Ontario is well documented, and it needs to be resolved.
Clement was among several local speakers addressing the Queen's Park Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs, held at the Holiday Inn on Regent Street this morning. One of the functions of the hearing is to allow citizens and organizations to have input on planning for the 2023 Ontario budget.
Clement said primary health care is at the heart of any well-functioning and sustainable health-care system that will lead to longer and healthier lives for the residents.
"In order for this to happen, primary care (providers) must be supported adequately to provide care. And the reality is that this is not happening. Thousands of Ontarians rely on piecemeal care at walk-in clinics or emergency departments, since they can't find a provider," Clement told the hearing.
She told the committee members that Ontario should consider additional spending on nurse practitioner-led clinics (NPLCs), to expand existing clinics and to create new clinics. She said the level of medical care provided by nurse practitioners has exceeded the provincial quality standards.
She said the success of Ontario's 25 existing NPLCs have prompted more than a dozen other communities across Ontario to begin lobbying to have practitioner clinics set up in their towns.
Clement added that Sudbury's nurse practitioner clinic is working to meet the needs and demands of local patients and admitted it can be challenging for the local staff.
"But they, like many working in primary care today are feeling overwhelmed, underappreciated, undervalued and tired of being asked to do more despite going above and beyond for patients throughout the pandemic," said Clement.
She recommended that the province take steps to help NPLCs deal with the human resources crisis in health care.
"We are seeing staff leave for other positions because we can't offer salary increases. So we are asking the government to develop a comprehensive health human resource strategy that provides wages at current market rates that will also keep up with inflation and the cost of living increases," said Clement.
She added that additional funding is required to meet basic overhead and everyday costs. Clement said in the past 15 years that the Sudbury nurse practitioner clinics have been in operation, there has not been any increase in funding for overhead costs.
"We have become very adept at managing our budgets to ensure we don't run a deficit," Clement told the committee.
"However, at times, this has come at a cost of patient care when positions go unfilled in order to move money to overhead lines in order to pay rent or utilities in order to ensure capacity and continuity based funding needs to be increased to keep up with inflation."
Another issue Clement commented on is that 19 per cent** of Sudbury-area physicians have been in practice for more than 30 years and many of them are expected to retire "within the next few years."
Clement said this could become a serious local issue.
"These providers carry a very large roster of patients and when they retire, their patients run the risk of becoming one of the 1.8 million Ontarians who cannot find a primary care provider. Unfortunately, that number is expected to rise to three million by 2025," Clement said.
She said the SDNPC clinics are accepting new patients on a weekly basis, but there is still a long waitlist of names waiting for their first intake appointment.
"So we've had to stop accepting new forms until we can catch up. Every day we are having to advise people that we are unable to accept new intake forms, and we encourage them to put their name on the Health Care Connect waitlist, but that waitlist is very long as well."
**Correction: An earlier version of this story used an incorrect statistic of 90 per cent. That has been corrected to 19 per cent.
Len Gillis covers health care and mining for Sudbury.com.