By Renée Rodgers
Tammy O’Rourke, a local nurse practitioner, could see something had to be done to improve healthcare in the area.
She recognized many people were without family doctors, overloading both urgent care clinics and hospital emergency rooms.
So three years ago, O’Rourke and Elizabeth Edwards, registered nurse and president of Registered Nurses Association of Ontario’s Quinte chapter, started a new type of healthcare service in Belleville to fix these problems.
Their vision, a nurse practitioner-led clinic, became a reality one year ago. The clinic is the second of its type to open in Ontario. It’s one of 25 nurse practitioner-led clinics Premier Dalton McGuinty has committed to bring to the province by the end of 2012.
O’Rourke said the Belleville clinic has been a great success. In its first year, the clinic has built up a roster of about 1,000 patients.
“One thousand more patients have received 2,300 more health visits this past year that wouldn’t have received care had the clinic not been here,” O’Rourke said.
The clinic celebrated its first anniversary August 16 by inviting the clinic board, employees, and patients to its 231 Front Street location.
Wendy Fucile, a registered nurse and past president of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, told the group this type of clinic makes health care accessible to more people.
“Since the first nurse practitioner-led clinic in Canada opened in 2007, many people who have not had access to healthcare for years are now receiving care,” she said.
The clinic is designed to take the load off emergency rooms and doctors with its team-based approach. It consists of a social worker, a dietician, a pharmacist, registered nurses, nurse practitioners and three collaborating physicians: Dr. Rob Drury, Dr. Paul Dempsey and Dr. Bill Cunningham, who recently joined the team.
O’Rourke said the clinic still has room for more patients.
“Our commitment to the Ministry of Health is 3,200 (patients),” she said. “I think we can push it a little bit further, by using everybody to their full scope of practice to 3,600. So we’re just about a third of the way there. But we are welcoming new patients every day.
Linda Jones, a nurse practitioner and member of the clinic’s board of governors, explained in an interview that nurse practitioners provide valuable medical services to the community. They can diagnose, prescribe certain medications and interpret laboratory and diagnostic testing.
“Nurse practitioners are able to see families and individual from womb to tomb, she said. “And we probably, depending on the complexity of the practice, do anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of what our family physician colleagues can do.”
Nurse practitioners can also refer patients to appropriate specialists where needed.
Suzanne Braithwaite, a registered nurse who is currently on maternity leave from the clinic, attended the celebration. She said in an interview she would be completely confident in bringing her three-month-old son to the clinic.
“The wonderful thing about this clinic is they provide comprehensive primary health care,” she said. “So we get a little bit of everything. Depending on what your needs are, you see the right practitioner. So if my son needs to see a registered nurse, he has that option. If he needs to see a dietician he has that option. And they offer health promotion as well. So they’re not just going to see me when I’m sick, they’re going to see both of us whenever we need to be seen.”
City councilor Pat Culhane, a registered nurse herself, presented O’Rourke with a plaque to honour of the clinic’s first year in Belleville. In a speech, she called the team-based clinic a “quantum shift” in the concept of medical care in Ontario.
“I love to see people benefit from improved health care,” she told the crowd.
For more information on the clinic’s services or to become a patient, call 613-779-7304.