By Karen Wolfe

In cooperation with the newly created Northern York South Simcoe (NYSS) Ontario Health Team, the province of Ontario had representatives in Georgina on Tuesday, February 13, to announce a $1.4 million investment in a new Interprofessional Primary Care (IPPC) Team.

The funding allocation will support a range of healthcare professionals working together as a team under one roof.

The current Georgina Health Clinic located at 716 The Queensway South in Keswick has offered in-kind support to the IPPC Team, and in an effort to expand the reach of this primary healthcare initiative, the IPPC Team has asked the Town of Georgina to provide additional space as it becomes available.

The IPPC model includes doctors, nurse practitioners, registered and practical nurses, physiotherapists, social workers and dieticians, among others.

“This significant investment is exactly what the residents of Keswick and Georgina need. Access to primary healthcare will be closer to home,” said Caroline Mulroney, MPP for York-Simcoe, when she made the announcement at the Link.

She said the new investment will serve 2,730 patients in Keswick and the surrounding area.

The new and expanded teams in Keswick are the result of a province-wide call for proposals that took place in 2023.

According to the province, Ontario Health thoroughly reviewed all proposals based on criteria prioritizing areas of greatest need to connect a greater number of people currently without a regular primary care provider with these services closer to home.

The NYSS is a partnership between the Southlake Community Ontario Health Team and the South Simcoe Ontario Health Team, and their proposal, which was ultimately selected to be funded, has multiple components–virtual care, a mobile care unit and bricks and mortar for in-person care. Proposals submitted by Peterborough and Kingston medical health teams also received $3 million and $4 million from Ontario’s $110 million investment to support IPPC teams.

The theory behind the IPPC trend in health care is that timely access to primary care helps people stay healthier for longer with faster diagnosis and treatment and more consistent support managing their day-to-day health while relieving pressures on emergency departments and walk-in clinics.

IPCC anoucement at the Link, Feb 13.

Although those present at the Link to make the announcement could not say how many additional staff would be hired at the 716 The Queensway S. facility, they did say the funding would support primary care virtually, in-person and through a dedicated mobile clinic for access by the most vulnerable residents. However, they confirmed that the primary care services would not be available on a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week basis.

Steve Jacobson, Chair of Health Georgina, a volunteer organization dedicated to ensuring that the citizens of the Town of Georgina have easy access to medical professionals, mental care and wellness providers, said Health Georgina was unaware that this announcement was coming.

When asked why Health Georgina, as an advocating group for health care in Georgina, was not made aware of or invited
to this meeting, no one could agree on an answer. Some thought Health Georgina was involved, and others disagreed.

“If The Post had not forwarded the invitation, we would not have known,” Jacobson said.

“This might be a good news story, but I still don’t know what they will do with money. Is it for a doctor…I mean, just what exactly are they talking about?”

He was also troubled because it was a Keswick announcement.

“Once again, maybe this is good news. I won’t deny it, but I wish I knew more about it. But the question I have is, once again, Georgina is focused on Keswick, and it doesn’t work. If you don’t have a car, it is $70 one way by cab to travel from Pefferlaw to Keswick, and who can afford $140 to go to a doctor,” he said, adding, “Move it centrally. Fifty per cent of the population lives east of Keswick.”

Another member of the Health Georgina team, Daryl Urquhart, said he was very concerned and disappointed in the announcement because it failed to itemize specifically, with the exception of the mobile clinic, where the money would be spent.

“There was no indication in the meeting that I saw of where that money was going to be spent, or how it was going to be spent or how it would be distributed or who would determine how that distribution would take place,” he said. “There were a lot of holes there that didn’t get filled, and I was awestruck at how empty it was.”

Urquhart said the healthcare need in Georgina is not necessarily a lack of money for more doctors; it is getting the healthcare professionals in town to work together to offer 24/7 healthcare.

“The downfall of our primary healthcare system right now is not a lack of money and is not a lack of doctors; it is a lack of distribution of health care throughout the 24-hour clock.”

He said redistributing the town’s healthcare resources may mean that doctors or nurse practitioners would work on shifts to be available after normal office hours and on weekends.

Urquhart said the emergency department at the hospital is the ‘go-to’ because everyone knows it is open 24/7, but not every visit is an emergency.

“So if you coordinate the hours that health care providers work and the availability of those professionals to a full 24-hour clock or even a 16-hour clock, then people would have the availability of a drop in clinic virtually 24/7, and then the congestion caused at the Southlake or Oak Valley emergency departments would be dramatically reduced.”

Urquhart’s vision for Georgina is a complex that offers 24/7 OHIP-supported acute health care with triage and urgent care diagnostic capability on one floor and fee-for-service offices for multi-disciplinary healthcare providers such as pharmacies, physiotherapy, dermatologists, laser therapy, orthotics, vision experts and others on another floor.

“Let’s just call it a Health Hub,” he said, adding that any money the province has to address healthcare needs in Georgina would be better spent on a health hub model that is a collaboration of both the public and private sectors.