Thunder Bay's nurse practitioner clinic is feeling the strain of the family doctor shortage. The clinic is full and can no longer accept new patients. It's turning to the province for help.

Clinic worker Debbie Karpowich said more people are looking for care because their family doctors are retiring.  

"I do... feel sorry for them and ... it's difficult telling them that they have to use walk-in clinics," she said.

"I mean they've had doctors all their life and now there's no one and they don't know how to handle this and what are they going to do?"

The clinic has enough space to hire two more nurse practitioners, which could serve an additional 1,600 patients. Plans are in the works to put in a request for funding from the Ministry of Health.


Debbie Karpowich, receptionist at Lakehead Nurse Practitioner-Led Clinic. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Thunder Bay-Atikokan MPP Bill Mauro said he hasn’t been approached by the nurse practitioner clinic to help expand its service. But he said he's committed to nurse practitioners as a solution for orphaned patients, and will do what he can to help.

For now, people like Lawrence and Lillian Buttman are concerned about how they are going to get prescriptions when their family doctor retires.

"Once a month she gets a needle, so [she] needs that needle bad," Lawrence said.

The couple has been added to the waiting list at the Lakehead Nurse Practitioner Clinic. People have flocked to the Archibald Street clinic in Thunder Bay’s south end, since it opened more than a year ago. Each of the four nurse practitioners who work there now has a full load of 800 patients. 

Clinic head Pam Delgaty said more than 175 people are on a waiting list, and the number keeps growing.

"A lot of people are terrified at the thought … [of losing] their family physician."