December 2, 2023

‘In terms of care we have none and I’m very skeptical about the care you can get over a telemedicine screen,’ says Sault’s Jennifer Hirst

Though many Saultites share her predicament, a local woman has reached out to SooToday to voice her frustration over not having a family doctor.

Jennifer Hirst and her husband, both now in their 70s, were Group Health Centre patients for 40 years.

Twelve years ago, their GHC family doctor, due to his own health issues, stopped in-person appointments but continued to fill prescriptions for patients.

After his retirement, the Hirsts had their medical needs attended to by one nurse practitioner, then another.  

Then the couple received an unsettling message from GHC.

“Last year we got a letter and they informed us that the second nurse practitioner had left the practice and that they were going to continue to look for three months for a replacement,” Hirst said.

Their prescriptions were filled by doctors through the GHC walk-in clinic, but then another bombshell landed on them.

“What makes me so angry is that my husband went to fill his prescription about a month ago and when the pharmacy tried to get through to the Group Health Centre they were told that we were no longer on the Group Health Centre roster,” Hirst said.

“I was shocked. At no point did anybody say we are going to de-roster you from the Group Health Centre. Nobody made that clear. They never said anything about de-rostering us or anything like that. We didn’t even think that would happen.”

Without a primary care provider since last summer, the Hirsts have had their prescriptions filled through visits to walk-in clinics and telemedicine appointments.

While some have no complaints about those approaches, Jennifer Hirst does.

“I had acute pancreatitis in 2013 and I ended up going to three different walk-ins and trying to get some help. The third one booked me for an MRI to find out what was going on but before that even happened I ended up being taken into emergency because I was so sick. I lost 30 pounds.”

“It’s hard doing telemedicine because the doctor doesn’t grasp how sick you are unless they see you. They see you on the screen but it’s not the same.”

As a senior, Hirst said she needs more.

“Nobody is checking our condition. There is no health care as such. They’re only going on what our health was years ago. Nobody’s checking our health the way it is now. There’s nothing like regular blood tests or anything like that. If somebody were to ask me if I’m diabetic I wouldn’t know because I’ve never been tested. So in terms of care we have none and I’m very skeptical about the care you can get over a telemedicine screen.”

Hirst said GHC directed her to register online and join the waiting list for a family doctor.

“We don’t know how long that’s going to take. We’ve no idea. I know people who have waited a long, long time to get a doctor.”

Hirst said she is aware of younger people, including family members, who have been de-rostered and feels their pain.

However, of the relationship she and her husband had with GHC, she stated “we’ve been there for 40 years and they just dropped us, just like that.”

“I’m saying to people: ‘Why, in the 12 years or so since my family doctor left, haven’t they had a new doctor there to take on his patients?’ That blows my mind.”

Hirst said northern Ontario MPPs should be doing more to bring family doctors to this part of the province.

“I just don’t like the way the Group Health Centre has handled it. I feel we’ve been treated very badly by them. I didn’t expect at this age to not have any care.”

She voiced her disappointment over paying into Ontario’s health care system for so long and then dropped from the GHC roster.

“How can they do this to us?”

“Apart from small children we’re probably in the most vulnerable age group, where we need doctors more than someone younger.”


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