Bringing a new family physician on board at the newcomer clinic in Peterborough, could be a win for the entire community, a Peterborough family doctor says.
As the Peterborough Newcomer Health Clinic (PNHC) continues its efforts to recruit a second physician, Dr. Madura Sundareswaran said she envisions a situation that will benefit other residents too, in addition to the clinic’s newcomer clients.
“My hope is that another doctor at the PNHC is another doctor for our community,” Dr. Sundareswaran told kawarthaNOW.
“The reality is, I am hoping that recruiting for the PNHC will actually supplement recruitment efforts for the city at large,” Dr. Sundareswaran said. “Current trends suggest that by 2026, Peterborough will need a total of 29 full-time family physicians to meet the need for the growing number of unattached patients.”
Currently, there are about 20,000 people without a family physician, she noted.
“In the ideal situation, we are finding family physicians who would also consider taking over a retiring family physician’s practice or willing to join a family practice to help the community at large. I would like to be able to offer supplemental work at the PNHC as a unique opportunity.”
The PNHC is a transitional clinic for immigrants and refugees in Peterborough city or county. The clinic provides short-term medical care for up to six months. The clinic was developed as a pilot project to evaluate and assess the need of such a service for newcomer clients and help structure future programming.
“Since we began operations in January of 2023, we quickly surpassed our target of 50 clients having completed a total of 92 intake assessments for new clients between January and December of 2023,” Dr. Sundareswaran said. “At our current capacity, even a target of 100 new intakes per year would be insufficient to meet the needs of all refugee newcomers in their first year in Canada.”
She suspects recruiting a family doctor for the PNHC mirrors the challenges other clinics and practices are currently experiencing related to physician recruitment efforts.
“I am hopeful but at times disheartened,” the doctor said.
She cites inadequate physician compensation, lack of support for team-based care, increased administrative burden for physicians, and fewer medical students choosing family medicine for their careers, as some of the reasons for the family physician shortage.
However, Dr. Sundareswaran is optimistic that “with a little thinking outside the box,” the clinic could be successful in its efforts.
“Collaborating with community partners, and with incredible support from the Peterborough Family Health Team, New Canadians Centre, Greater Peterborough Health Services Foundation, and a recent grant from the Foundation for Advancing Family Medicine/College of Family Physicians of Canada, we have developed a practice model that we hope is somewhat attractive and compensates physicians fairly for the work that they will do in this clinic. But competitive compensation would not be possible without the generous support or our partner organizations.”
The PNHC recently received the Racialized Communities Leadership Grant in Family Medicine to help offset some of its costs — medical supplies and the electronic medical records system.
The grant covers expenses at $5,000 per year, therefore the success of the next two years depends on ongoing in-kind support from partners, she explained.
“First and foremost, my hope is that another doctor at the PNHC is another doctor for our community. A family physician to care for the numerous patients without one, and a family physician who may consider taking some of our PNHC clients who are often discharged without a family doctor after their six-to-nine-month transition with our program.”
The PNHC, with Dr. Sundareswaran at the helm as its sole physician, is a partnership between the New Canadians Centre, Peterborough Family Health Team, and the Greater Peterborough Health Services Foundation.
The PNHC operates on a referral-only basis with clients being referred directly to the clinical team from the resettlement assistance program at the New Canadians Centre. To date, clients eligible for the PNHC’s services must be within one year of settlement, have OHIP coverage, and cannot have a family physician already in Ontario.
Between March 2022-2023, Peterborough welcomed 152 government-assisted refugees to its community. Those newcomers did not include Ukrainian refugees who arrived in Canada via the Canada Ukraine authorization for emergency travel program, privately sponsored refugees, or refugee claimants in the community.
“I would love to have a new physician to increase the number of patients we are able to provide services for in a year,” Dr. Sundareswaran said. “I would aim for a total of 150 patients per year with an additional half day per week of additional physician time. If this physician is as passionate about the work, then I would love to collaborate with them to continue to develop the services we offer at the PNHC, especially around health promotion and advocacy.”
Health care overall in Peterborough received some good news recently, with a provincial government injection of $110 million in funding for primary health care teams in the province. Of that amount, the newly established Peterborough Community Health Centre (CHC) will receive more than $3 million as an initial investment.
Ontario minister of health Sylvia Jones made the funding announcement February 1 during a media conference at the Peterborough Family Health Team offices. It’s the first new community health centre funded in Ontario in more than 15 years.
“We are thrilled that the need in Peterborough has been recognized,” said Jonathan Bennett, board chair of the Peterborough CHC, in response to the announcement. “Community health centres have demonstrated success in responding to homelessness, addictions, and providing effective health care to groups that struggle to connect to services.”
According to Bennett, the non-profit organization will be working with Ontario Health East — part of Ontario Health, an agency created by the Ontario government to connect, coordinate, and modernize the province’s health care system — to determine next steps, including hiring initial staff and seeking out short-term locations from which to offer services.