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Co-op health clinic in Ayer’s Cliff suffers lack of nurses, doctors

By William Crooks

Local Journalism Initiative

The provincial lack of qualified doctors and nurses can be felt right here at home in the Townships. The Record spoke over the phone with Ayer’s Cliff co-op health clinic Centre de Santé Valleé Massawippi’s (CSVM) Dr. Henry Khouri, president of its board, for an update on the situation.

“We’re looking for resources… and it’s becoming harder and harder,” Khouri began. CSVM is looking primarily for nurse practitioners, he specified, for only a handful graduate out of Sherbrooke every year. The Ministry of Health provides strong incentives for those nurses that do graduate to enter the provincial public health system, he added, which further lessens the pool of those available to work at the CSVM.

Graduating nurses are offered a large bursary and loan, in the order of $60,000 total, to work for the provincial system, he continued. It is Khouri’s understanding that the bursary is $20,000 in addition to a $40,000 loan that they don’t have to pay for three years upon graduation. “It’s kind of tough [for the nurses] to resist,” he said. “We have to match at least what they [the Ministry] is offering,” Khouri insisted, referring to the CSVM’s intended response.

The CSVM is not looking for regular nurses, he reiterated, but nurse practitioners, a profession that requires a two-year Master’s degree and three years of experience as a regular nurse. The program and qualification standards to be a nurse practitioner in Quebec have been in place for only seven years, he added. “Ontario is ahead of us,” Khouri explained, and has five to seven times the number of graduates that Quebec does. There are just over 7,000 graduates a year in all of Canada, he said, while Quebec produces around 800 a year. These differences may have something to do with salary and language requirement differences, he speculated, but he is not sure.

Khouri thinks the demand for nurse practitioners is up because of issues with, “freedom and autonomy.” They are qualified to do many of the things that a family physician does but the government has yet to give them the “bigger role” they deserve.

The disproportionality is not just provincial, but national; the United States is, “way ahead [of Canada],” he said. This, he insisted, has to do with the countries’ different healthcare systems. The role of a nurse practitioner became more prominent faster in the U.S. than in Canada. Most telemedicine on the other side of the border, a service growing in popularity, is done by nurse practitioners, he said. “We’ve got some catching up to do.”

The CSVM is also looking for more physicians. “More are retiring than we are attracting,” Khouri explained. The clinic is doing well, with over 3,000 members and growing. The demand is there, he insisted, and predicts growth to continue to four or five thousand members. But they need the staff to accommodate that growth.

The CSVM is publicly run, he insisted, so recent news of the provincial government phasing out private clinics has no bearing on its operations. It books over 8,000 nursing and 2,000 physician appointments per year. Many new members are joining from as far away as Sherbrooke. Its nurses have expertise in triage, so they can judge the severity of a patient’s problem well and gauge an appropriate response, he said. They offer urgent-care physician appointments, nursing care, vaccination, preventative care, blood and urine testing, and overall health-related guidance and education.

The CSVM is planning on opening a satellite clinic in North Hatley but has not worked out a proper location in town yet, Khouri said. Other municipality-level possibilities are being considered as well, he added. He said the CSVM wishes to increase geographical access to members and there should be more news to share in a few months.

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