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Thursday, September 28, 2023
Code Grey: New doctors a ‘good first step,’ but NOTL’s seniors need more care, says councillor
Dr. Anne Wilson. (Supplied)

“Code Grey” is one in a series of stories in The Lake Report about health care in Niagara Region. In hospital parlance, “Code Grey” means loss of essential service.


As the Niagara North Family Health Team gears up to welcome new practitioners to Niagara-on-the-Lake, many are relieved at the thought of the town gaining two much-needed doctors. 

Two doctors are joining the Niagara Medical Centre in Virgil this fall: Dr. Anne Wilson has a proposed start date of Oct. 1 and Dr. Michael Grasic has a proposed start date of Dec. 1.

“It’s a good first step,” said Coun. Sandra O’Connor, who has been vocal about her views on health care’s shortcomings in NOTL and across the region.

However, she said, it is only a first step.

“There’s still more work to be done,” O’Connor said. 

O’Connor cited Jill Croteau, a physician recruitment specialist for Niagara Region, who said that the town needs 14 doctors.

With 11 practising in NOTL, the municipality is three doctors short.

“We have two now coming, which is great. According to her statistics we still need one more,” O’Connor said.

But O’Connor thinks that is still underestimating the amount this town should have, arguing that with 36 per cent of residents in Niagara-on-the-Lake being 65 or older, the level of need is higher.

“When you have older patients their issues are more complex so therefore the doctors need more time with them and that translates to a need for more doctors,” she said.

O’Connor added that while she doesn’t know what the perfect number is, she assumes 14 isn’t it.


Wilson has been working as a doctor for the past decade, including several years working out of the Family Health Organization in Niagara Falls. 

Being familiar with the doctor shortage in the region and the level of care needed, Wilson feels confident that she can help alleviate some of the need here in NOTL.

“There’s no set number (of patients) that we will need to take, it will depend on demand. There is another physician coming with me so I think that will help,” she told The Lake Report. 

“I still don’t think we will be able to take all of the patients that are in need, I feel that the area is still quite underserviced still,” Wilson added. 

She explained that when her previous practice in Niagara Falls shut down, more than 2,000 patients were orphaned because no doctors were available to take over. That is just a small example of patients in need. 

Given her knowledge of the area, though, Wilson is dedicated to ensuring that her NOTL patients are met with exceptional care. 

“You need to see what the need is because every patient population is different,” she said.

“Niagara-on-the-Lake is probably going to be more complex, older patients who require more time,” she said, adding that this will go into consideration when capping off how many she is able to accept. 

“I’m a doctor who doesn’t like my patients to wait more than two weeks to come in to see me. So if my wait time gets longer than that, I pause accepting (new patients),” Wilson said.

Wilson also mentioned Health Care Connect, which allows hospitals to send more complex orphaned patients to the family health team, which has the resources to help. 


With the steps toward increasing the number of doctors in NOTL just beginning, O’Connor outlined her hopes going forward to The Lake Report. 

“We have been working with the Ministry of Health to get the nurse practitioner position back, which will be open to any walk-ins and all those who don’t have to be rostered into the Niagara North Family Health Team,” O’Connor said. 

She added that the ministry has given this idea the green light, but the process to ensure that the right governing structure is in place has taken more than a year so far.

“We’re still working on it and we’re still hopeful,” she said.

O’Connor added that during a visit to her doctor’s office last Monday morning she witnessed somebody in need of stitches being turned away and told to visit St. Catharines, since NOTL does not have walk-in capabilities. 

“That really brought it home to me when I saw this first-hand and this is not an isolated situation,” O’Connor said.

For now, NOTLers can look forward to a shortened patient waiting list at home in Virgil. The Niagara North Family Health Team’s is eager to welcome both Wilson and Grasic into the fold.

In an email to The Lake Report, executive director Mary Keith said, “We are looking forward to being able to provide team-based primary care to those in Niagara-on-the-Lake who have not been able to access a family doctor.”


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