Thanks for saving my life. That’s the message one woman recently wanted to convey to the City of Lakes Family Health Team, which provides primary care services to nearly 20,000 Sudburians.
“We really get some extraordinary stories,” said Dave Courtemanche, who’s the family health team’s executive director (you might also know him as Greater Sudbury’s former mayor).
“As long as we continue to get that kind of feedback, that the patients we serve are thrilled with their care, to me, that’s what it’s all about.”
The City of Lakes Family Health Team, which opened its first clinic in February 2008 in Val Caron, is celebrating its 10th anniversary.
The organization’s second clinic opened in May 2008 in a space behind Pioneer Manor in New Sudbury, followed by a Walden clinic in 2011 and finally a Chelmsford clinic in 2017.
The four clinics are staffed by 17 family physicians (there’s plans to hire another this year) and 13 allied health-care providers including nurse practitioners, registered nurses, a pharmacist, a dietitian and a social worker.
Some of those physicians are new to the family health team and still growing their practices, so there’s actually room for about 4,000 more patients, bringing the total roster to 24,000.
The idea is that family physicians working with allied health professionals are able to provide better care than in a traditional, solo practice.
It’s taken a lot of persistence to get the project off the ground, said Dr. Chris McKibbon, both the founding and current chair of the organization’s board.
That includes opening the clinics in outlying areas, many of which are medically underserviced. The City of Greater Sudbury helped out by providing rent-free space in municipal buildings.
“At the end of the day we’ve had lots of ups and downs,” McKibbon said.
“Sometimes it’s been a challenge to be persistent with this. But I think the docs and the patients and the communities where we’ve located are happy with what we’ve accomplished so far.”
Many doctors on staff are recent Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) graduates, some of whom did their residency at the family health team.
“I think the notion of a solo family doctor working in isolation in their office without access to physician colleagues or other health professionals is a very old idea,” said Dr. Tom Crichton, the family health team’s medical lead.
“Young physicians these days have no interest in that.
“They’ve experienced and seen how when a team is working together, it’s far better at meeting the needs of patients who have much more complicated problems and sets of issues that need to be sorted out.”
The family health team offers many programs to support their chronic disease management efforts.
These programs include geriatrics, nutrition, smoking cessation, palliative care, cancer screening, mental health, diabetes, hypertension and medication management.
It also follows up with hospitalized patients after they’ve been discharged — a particularly vulnerable time — to make medication changes and set up follow-up appointments with their family doc.
Because poverty is linked to poor health, patients are also now screened for poverty. If they are having a hard time making ends meet, they’re referred to social support programs that may be of some help.
Crichton said he’s “thrilled” the City of Lakes Family Health Team is celebrating 10 years, but he’s “not surprised” it’s thriving.
“I think the idea made sense to those of us involved in it at the start, and it continues to make tremendous sense,” he said.
“Family health teams have proven themselves in the province to be a very effective and efficient way of delivering primary care. We’re happy to have been part of that movement.”
Learn more about the City of Lakes Family Health Team, visit its website.