Wayne Gates wants the Ford government to move faster on bringing a nurse practitioner to Niagara-on-the-Lake – to fill a gap in health-care services that has left many residents without access to care.
The Niagara Falls MPP said that Sylvia Jones, the minister for health and long-term care, has shown support in the past for bringing more services to NOTL, but that nothing has been done for more than a year.
Gates and Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa submitted a joint letter to Jones, demanding that Premier Doug Ford’s government take action to bring an additional nurse practitioner to the town.
“A high percentage of NOTL residents – close to 40 per cent – are not registered with the Niagara North Family Health Team,” Gates said, adding that of the town’s senior population, 36 per cent are without a doctor.
Many residents without a doctor are over 65, he added.
Data from Statistics Canada bears that out. As of 2021, 30.9 per cent of NOTL’s population was over the age of 65, nearly double that of provincewide numbers of about 17 per cent.
“(Residents without a doctor) end up having to go to St. Catharines or Niagara Falls. They have to drive 20 to 30 minutes to see someone,” Gates said.
The new nurse practitioner would not be a part of the health team, Gates said, but rather as a walk-in service.
He added that Jones “recognizes the need” in NOTL but that he’d continue to press the minister for action.
“All I can do is heighten awareness again,” he said.
Zalepa, meanwhile, is confident a nurse practitioner and walk-in clinic will be funded.
He isn’t certain where the position will be based – at the family health team’s offices in Virgil or at the new medical centre in Garrison Village.
“It has yet to be determined,” Zalepa said. “We just want to get services.”
Mary Keith, executive director of the NOTL Family Health Team, said the services are needed despite the town recently adding two new family physicians to its complement. The problem is that it takes time, she said.
“It’s been an ongoing process. “I’m optimistic it will happen, it’s just a slow process,” Keith said, adding that Coun. Sandra O’Connor and Bonnie Bagnulo, executive director of the NOTL Community Palliative Care Service, have been leading the charge for the additional help.
Bagnulo said she became involved in the push for a new nurse practitioner when she saw a need among her for patients in palliative care, experiencing things such as rashes and other issues that could be tended to by a family doctor or nurse practitioner.
“We didn’t have a place for them to go,” she said.
Like Zalepa, she feels optimistic that things will soon change even though the road has been long.
“We know the position is coming,” she said.
Gates, meanwhile, said the team approach could be the best one to get help from the Ford government.
“I think it’s important we have the two levels of government working together,” he said.