I finished my PhD dissertation nine years ago. The facetious working title of "Do Doctors Matter?" actually stuck -- with the subtitle of 'women's experiences of maternity care in rural Ontario'. Throughout that project, I was struck by the challenges Ontarians were facing in obtaining what I would consider the most basic of health services in Canada: primary care close to where they live and a midwife or doctor to catch their babies, especially in rural areas. (It was particularly ironic to give birth to one of my daughters on our living room floor because the ambulance and midwives took too long to arrive -- within weeks of having my thesis topic approved!)
Around that time, I became involved in what was then known as EWAG, now East Wellington Community Services. One of its initiatives was a proposal to develop a Family Health Team. Once we secured funding for this new model of multidisciplinary health care in our town, things moved both quickly and slowly at the same time. There were endless meetings, countless hours spent and heavy doses of frustration, mostly with government bureaucracy, coping with setbacks and lots of change. But now, looking back over what's happened, it's amazing to me what has transpired in a relatively short time. There is a whole new organization in place, with its own Board of Directors, staff, mandate and vision. There are two gorgeous new medical centres built and operational (photos to follow I hope). There is a team of health professionals providing integrated care on-site, including in mental health and nutrition. There is a state-of-the-art computer system with digitized medical records and a staff who knows how to use them. And there is a group of people who've built valued relationships and are living with the satisfaction of knowing -- seeing daily -- that our efforts have made a difference. Without electronic medical records, a turn-key facility and a solid team in place, the likelihood of attracting new doctors and other health professionals to Erin and Rockwood was extremely low. Now, the infrastructure is in place to ensure sustainable, local care well into the future, and new physicians are interested in relocating to those towns.
Not only was I a volunteer with the East Wellington Family Health Team, but our family is privileged to receive outstanding care as clients there -- thankfully we haven't needed it very often. When my daughter was in just last week though, we marvelled at the spiffy remote control chair and big portable lights in the new treatment room, and the washrooms now accessible directly from the waiting room. She loved getting a 'backstage tour' that even included the staff lunch room. We both got excited about the Tim Horton's being built next door, at long last. But as we shared our chicken caesar salad at Tintagels afterward, it was the gentle, patient, personalized care we received that impressed us most. Having an 8-year-old notice that our doctor is "always very kind to us and remembers things about us" and that the nurse "was really friendly and made me less scared" is worth investing in. I'm thrilled that a whole new generation of 8-year-olds in that community will be able to say the same thing.
So today's donation is one of thanksgiving -- to Duncan, Eric, Rachel, John, Michelle, Jane, Kevin, Ruth, Eva, Carla, Diarmid, Kim, Laurie, Val, Nancy, Chris, Shane -- and the many others who worked tirelessly to see the EWFHT come to fruition. You've all gone above and beyond. It was a privilege to be able to put my academic 'head knowledge' to work in such a practical and fulfilling way. And although I remain committed to publicly funded health care, I'm willing to add a few dollars to those of the Ministry of Health to ensure that small communities are able to continue to offer high quality, local, integrated primary care.
You can get involved with the EWFHT by clicking here, but if you don't live in that area, I hope you're inspired to find other ways to thank the people that help to keep you healthy and those who set admirable examples of forward-thinking community service. Follow in their steps!