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Vowing to do more, Romano announces primary care funding for 4,500 local patients

$1.1M for Sault Community Health Centre, Maamwesying North Shore Community Health Services still leaves approximately 25,000 local patients without a doctor
Ross Romano, MPP for Sault Ste. Marie, pictured in this file photo.

Sault Ste. Marie MPP Ross Romano has announced $1.1 million in provincial government funding for two Sault-based healthcare facilities to ease the crisis in access to primary healthcare.

Sault Community Health Centre will receive $615,000 in funding to serve an additional 2,275 net new unattached patients.

Maamwesying North Shore Community Health Services will receive $494,000 in funding to serve an additional 2,275 net new unattached Indigenous patients.

The funding announced by Romano Friday did not specifically address the needs of approximately 10,000 Group Health Centre patients who will be de-rostered and lose access to a GHC primary health care provider and walk-in clinic effective May 31, 2024.

That bombshell announcement was made by Romano and GHC officials Jan. 25.

In addition, there are 6,000 other GHC patients at risk of losing access to primary care at that healthcare facility.

During Friday's announcement, Romano was asked by SooToday if the Group Health model itself needs to be overhauled as part of addressing the local doctor shortage.

“I think that it’s time that we look at the Group Health Centre model,” replied Romano, who is in the process of organizing a local task force to examine possible solutions to the shortage of primary care providers. “What I mean to do is to bring the experts to the table who can help us with being able to uncover the right answers. I think it’s important first that we ask the right questions and I believe all questions at this point in time are appropriate to ask at this stage."

“[We need to] look at that as a great service in our community and see how we can support it any way we can while also recognizing that we want to make sure that we’re listening to all the people in the healthcare field, including those from the Group Health Centre, to ensure that we’re doing everything that we can to support them and to support our community," Romano added.

Romano said he wants Ministry of Health officials at the table when the task force holds its first meeting March 1.

GHC was established through a fund established by thousands of unionized Algoma Steel employees in the 1960s.

As SooToday reported this morning, USW Local 2251 has stated GHC has broken its promise to provide healthcare to steelworkers.

“I think that if that is something that’s being alleged by the union then that is something that would require some type of legal analysis to be addressed through a court process,” Romano told reporters Friday.

It has been estimated there are approximately 30,000 people in the Sault and area without a family doctor or nurse practitioner.

Friday’s funding announcement reduces that number to approximately 25,000.

“This is the beginning. This is not the end,” Romano said.

“The job continues and we still have a long way to go but I would say this is a tremendous first start to making sure that those people in our community who want access to care can receive the care that they deserve.”

The funding announced by Romano comes from a Ministry of Health investment of $110 million made Thursday to connect 328,000 Ontarians to primary care teams. 

“This funding will allow us to expand our services and to reach a greater part of the community and vastly improve our accessibility and the services we can offer,” said Dr. Allan McLean of the Sault Community Health Centre.

The funding provided to Maamwesying North Shore Community Health Services will improve access for Indigenous patients to family doctors, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, registered practical nurses, physiotherapists, social workers and registered dieticians.

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Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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