POWASSAN – After a recent slam from council, the Powassan and Area Family Health Team is happy to clear the air with the community.
“After two years, there are all sorts of rumours going around, so it was nice to be able to give people something solid,” said Powassan and Area Family Health Team (PAAFHT) chair Sheila Latour.
Following a vote by council on March 5 that put a hold on any decisions regarding a financial commitment on the part of the Municipality until the FHT provides further information, the FHT held an open house at the Golden Sunshine Club.
The more than 50 attendees to the March 8 event had a chance to see the design of the new building and talk to members of the PAAFHT board about its plans.
“They were impressed with the look of the building and the interior space and the privacy for the patients,” said Latour. “We were very pleased. It was a very positive night.”
The FHT currently has four affiliated doctors, but is looking for more. Eventually the FHT plans to have a full team including a nurse practitioner, registered nurse, dietician, registered practical nurse, social worker and part-time phlebotomist to complete bloodwork. The new building would include parking for more than 55 vehicles.
The board is now waiting on a decision from council on whether or not the Municipality will subsidize the doctors’ rent before it can move forward with the plans.
“If we don’t get council to sign on the dotted line by April 16, the project is dead in the water,” said Latour, explaining the FHT could lose its Provincial funding if the project is delayed by indecision.
On behalf of the doctors, the FHT is asking council to match the funding by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care with an annual commitment of $155,000 to cover the doctors’ half of the lease and utilities. The Municipality would then negotiate a rental agreement with the doctors at a subsidized rate as they have been doing in the current FHT location, a Municipally owned building located at 8 King Street.
“It’s not a clean number,” said PAAFHT director Roger George. “It’s not that we’re saying $155,000 of new money has to be found. It’s really only around $60,000.”
George said the reduction in the forecasted bottomline cost to the Municipality is due to a number of factors. He said because the Municipality will collect about $15,000 a year in taxes from the new building, could potentially charge the doctors at least $15,000 a year in rent, and is currently paying about $50,000 each year to subsidize the doctors in the current location, that money can all be put toward the $155,000 cost.
Additionally, he said as 2013 is the final year the Municipality will pay into its $86,000 commitment to North Bay-based children’s treatment centre One Kids Place, those funds, paid at a rate of $17,200 per year, could be allocated to the medical centre in coming years.
According to George, together these funds represent $97,200 per year that wouldn’t require additional strain on the Municipal budget leaving about $60,000 to be factored into future financial plans.
“It all boils down to the long-term recruitment and retention of medical professionals,” explained George. “We don’t believe we will be able to attract doctors to an old building that is going to need serious repairs or to be replaced and we know it’s an expensive game to try to recruit doctors by your cheque book.”
George, who holds the position of co-chair of the municipal economic development committee, said the investment in the medical centre shouldn’t be viewed any differently than investments the Municipality makes into the library or local arena because the health team draws similar economic benefits.
“When people come to a medical appointment they might end up eating in the area or doing their shopping,” he explained. “There are many intangible benefits of having a state of the art medical centre in our community.”
Those who attended the open house were given the opportunity to fill out a survey that included a question on whether or not the person considers it appropriate for the Municipality to offer financial aid to FHT affiliated doctors. According to Latour, all but one of the surveys came back in support of the doctors’ request.
George said by the end of its anticipated rental term with the Municipality, the FHT will have paid $92,000 in rent for the period of May 2011 to April 2014, which is the earliest date the new building would be ready.
“It’s here nor there, but it just shows people that nobody is looking for a free ride on this one,” explained George.
Coun. Todd White, who initiated the March 5 council vote saying the FHT hasn’t been transparent and could be committing fraudulent acts, arrived nearly an hour early and spoke to each fellow attendee as they came through the door.
Although she said she has no idea what White was saying to people, Latour said she wasn’t offended that he showed up.
“I’m glad he came out,” said Latour, noting Coun. Roger Glabb and Mayor Peter McIsaac were also in attendance. “I’m sad the rest of council didn’t come out.”
White has questioned the fairness of the FHT’s process for choosing the developer on the project.
According to the Board, three quotes were received in 2012 for construction of the building, but because the quote put forward by Gary Eide was significantly lower per square foot than the other two, and his offer included maintenance, repairs, property taxes and building insurance, he was chosen as the developer.
The FHT currently pays $22 per square foot as well as half of the gross utilities and janitorial services at the King Street location.
In the new building, the FHT will pay $29.50 per square foot for a space of about 7,500 square feet, with the lease being fully covered by the Ministry, as well as the cost of staffing and administration. The Ministry has agreed to finance the FHT for a period of 10 years.
“Personally, I think we’re getting a lot for that,” said Latour.
With geographical boundaries encompassing Loring and Restoule in the west to Chisholm in the east, and from East Ferris in the north to Trout Creek and Laurier in the south, it is hoped neighbouring municipalities will partner with Powassan in providing funds. Chisholm mayor Leo Jobin and Nipissing mayor Pat Haufe attended the FHT’s open house.
The FHT serves a catchment area of about 12,000 residents. It is estimated that more than 5,000 of those don’t have access to a family physician and many others are rostered with physicians outside of the area due to a lack of healthcare professionals in the immediate area. As of the open house, the four doctors affiliated with the FHT had a combined roster of 5,241 patients. Currently, Dr. Larry Woodward is actively accepting new patients.