By Ian Fairclough
(Published in the Chronicle Herald)
The provincial government has announced $11 million in funding for a new primary health-care centre on the grounds of Soldiers Memorial Hospital in Middleton.
The new centre will replace a medical clinic next to the hospital that was originally built in the 1970s for doctors offices. That space no longer meets the needs of the collaborative family practice group working there.
The building will be six times bigger, with 25 exam and meeting rooms instead of the current seven.
In making the announcement Tuesday morning on the front lawn of the hospital, where the stand-alone facility will be built, Premier Stephen McNeil thanked local health care practitioners for their patience.
“The conversation about the working conditions and the environment you’re in has been ongoing for a number of years,” he said.
“This new facility will allow us to welcome more primary caregivers into our community, whether they are residents or medical students, to give them the opportunity to see first-hand what it is like to live and work in this beautiful part of the province.”
The call for tenders has already gone out. McNeil said he expects work to start this fall, with the centre ready in about a year.
The facility will also serve as a training centre, which Dr. Leslie Ribeiro said hopefully will attract new doctors to the area.
She’s a practitioner at the current Middleton Collaborative Practice. Its clinic has a split-entry design, which means patients must navigate stairs whether the person they’re seeing is upstairs or down. And the limited number of rooms means a lot of juggling of space to fit patients and accommodate medical students.
“The added space this building will provide will add to our ongoing recruitment efforts to try to attract new team members to serve the surrounding communities,” Ribeiro said.
“It will allow us to increase our capacity for teaching; not only of medical students and family medicine residents, whom we hope to attract to and keep in the area, but other allied health professionals, with their unique scopes and skill sets that will complement the health care we can provide.”
She said arrived at the clinic five years ago for her two years of training in the family medicine residency program, and liked the area so much she stayed on as a clinician. She’s counting on a new facility and more spaces for residency programs to do that for others.
“If you train them and expose them, then hopefully they will stay and hopefully we catch them early enough in their training that they consider family medicine and rural family medicine.”
The clinic is at capacity for patients “but our hope is that if we attract new people, that we’ll be able to take on more community members.”
The doctor said there have been four recent retirements without replacements, “so there are many, many patients is this area without a family doctor or primary care practitioner.”
There are many calls and drop-in requests each day from people looking to find a family physician, she said.
“It becomes disheartening when you have to say no so many times in a day.”
The Soldiers Memorial Hospital Foundation has committed $1 million toward the project.
“It’s a hell of a day,” said foundation chairman Jim Mosher, who can remember when the original building was built on hospital property.
“We’ve been waiting for what seems like forever to get a facility like this.”
He said was on the former hospital board when young doctors who were moving to Middleton needed a place to set up. They bought a portion of the hospital’s land for the current building.