Mobile clinic provides care to rural communities

Mobile clinic provides care to rural communities

Former Minister of Health and Long-Term Care George Smitherman having his blood pressure taken on board the NorWest CHC mobile clinic.

The NorWest Community Health Centre mobile clinic program serving the Thunder Bay District is adding a second van and expanding coverage along the north shore of Lake Superior to Pays Plat and Rossport.Staffed by a nurse practitioner, a foot care specialist and a community health worker, the Community Health Centre’s mobile unit has been serving patients in Kakabeka Falls, Nonalou, Murillo, Shebandowan, Upsala, Dorion and Red Rock for two and a half years, said executive director Wendy Talbot.

Prior to the introduction of the service, residents of these outlying communities either travelled to Thunder Bay for health services or made use of the Emergency Room at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.

“It was a real inconvenience for seniors with accessibility issues because a lot of them don’t drive,” said Talbot. “Some of these communities were losing population because young people were moving away and those left behind were vulnerable in terms of accessing care, so we made a proposal to the Ministry of Health and they accepted it.”

The van is on the road every week and sets up shop in community centres, church basements or other suitable locations. Patients make appointments by calling a toll-free number to speak with a logistics co-ordinator.

Physicians at the Community Health Centre are available by phone if the nurse practitioner requires backup. As a last resort, the patient may have to make an appointment with a physician or specialist and arrange for transportation to Thunder Bay.

Mobile clinic staff can see up to 15 patients a day.

The foot care specialist is kept particularly busy because of the prevalence of diabetes and the challenges seniors have taking care of their feet.

“Foot care for seniors is a huge issue,” said Talbot. “For some people it’s as simple as having their nails cut. The feet are often neglected and it shows up as you get older. If you can’t walk on your feet, you’re bed-ridden and that can be hugely expensive.”

The community health worker does presentations and organizes activities to encourage physical activity, promotes smoking cessation and educates people about proper footwear, while children in the communities served look forward to an annual Teddy Bear picnic focusing on lifestyle issues.

Talbot regularly gets phone calls from rural areas of southern Ontario inquiring about the Community Health Centre’s mobile clinic program, but notes that every community is different.

“This particular model works for us,” she said.  “Some want to go with a bigger vehicle, but we deliberately chose a smaller vehicle (a Dodge Sprint) because of our winter conditions. We wanted to make sure it would be on the road for 12 months of the year.”

The NorWest Community Health Centre has permanent facilities in Thunder Bay, Armstrong and Longlac, and is one 72 community health centres in Ontario.  A multi-disciplinary, primary health care model predating family health teams, community health centres tend to serve the more disadvantaged sectors of society.

“We have been in the trenches for a long time and are leaders in multidisciplinary care,” said Talbot. “We don’t have a lot of healthy middle class clients. We work with populations that are very hard to serve.”

The NorWest Community Health Centre does outreach work through clinics in schools and youth facilities, and operates a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder program, teaming up with St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto for assessments via the Ontario Telemedicine Network.

www.norwestchc.org

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