A campaign now underway to bring what is known as a community health centre here has exposed, again, what has been demonstrated for years: Peterborough has among the highest rates of addiction, overdose deaths, mental health issues and hospital ER visits in Ontario.
As we said last week, those factors are reason enough to add Peterborough to the list of communities with a specialized clinic providing medical care to homeless and marginalized people who don’t have a doctor.
Convincing the provincial government to provide $7.6 million annually to fund a clinic won’t be easy, but events are aligning in a way that should make the task facing a group of local doctors, health care providers and social agencies less challenging.
One hopeful sign is that the family doctors are changing their view of what a medical practice should be.
That has been cited in the past as a reason so many people — an estimated 13,000 in Peterborough city and county — don’t have a family doctor.
A decade ago family doctors routinely had 1,500 to 2,000 or more patients in what was essentially an owner-operated small business. Doctors were on their own to cover the long office hours required to see all those patients.
Today, every doctor in Peterborough is part of a family health team with support from nurse practitioners, social workers and specialized therapists. They are still independent operators to a degree, but most have fewer than 1,000 patients.
One doctor who spoke at city council last week in support of a community clinic said it would attract new doctors who want to see even more change. They would be on salary, wouldn’t have to scramble to find replacements when taking time off and could practice a more social version of medicine — caring for the marginalized.
Peterborough city and county recently agreed to up their annual spending on doctor recruitment to nearly $140,000 yet still face a growing shortage. Landing a community clinic could cut the current “orphan” patient list nearly in half.
That would substantially relieve pressure on the overburdened ER at Peterborough Regional Health Centre, making service both faster for people with more serious medical emergencies and more cost effective.
The closure of Trinity United Church, which held its last service on Sunday, is another indication the stars may be aligning at just the right time.
Trinity is interested in repurposing the building — on the edge of downtown at Rubidge and Simcoe streets — as a hub for some type of community service.
There is now a tentative plan to sell it to the Peterborough Poverty Reduction Network (PPRN). What the building might house hasn’t been decided.
That model can work, as PPRN proved when it led a group of agencies that took over the former Sisters of St. Joseph convent 20 years ago and successfully transformed it into The Mount Community Centre.
Trinity’s building is close to downtown and the people a clinic would serve, but not directly in the core. That should help generate support from the downtown business community, which feels burdened as the location for every homeless shelter and mental health and addiction site in the city.
There are no guarantees and a long way to go, but a community clinic in the former church has the feel of something that could work.