A Thunder Bay doctor said it's unacceptable that so many people don’t have a primary care provider.

But fixing health care in the city goes beyond hiring more doctors and nurse practitioners, said Dr. Sarah Eckler.

That's a key health-care promise by northwestern Ontario candidates running in the upcoming provincial election.

Eckler said politicians also need to focus on keeping people healthy.

"Things like poverty, domestic abuse, addiction, and access to nice, clean spaces that are exercise-friendly," she said.

As many as 20,000 people in the city do not have a family doctor, according to Thunder Bay's physician recruitment and retention council.

Walk-in doctors 'scoot you out the door'

Jan Yoller said she hasn’t been able to get a family doctor since she moved to Thunder Bay from Guelph six years ago.

"I had a lovely doctor there," said Yoller, 66.

She said she's been going to walk-in clinics and doesn't feel she gets the attention she needs.

"The doctors, they see you in five minutes and then they scoot you out the door."

Patients without a doctor or nurse practitioner can't go to just any walk-in clinic.  Half of Thunder Bay’s clinics only serve people who have already registered there as patients.

Nurse practitioners step in

Some clinics have hired nurse practitioners to take on patients who don’t have family doctors. 

Marie Czinkota, a nurse practitioner at NorWest Community Health Centres, said she’s always busy.

"I'm picking up new clients on an average of two a day ... that don't have physicians (and) that, for the last X number of years, have been doing walk-in clinics," she said.

But several patients at Ridgeway Walk-In Medical Clinic said they didn’t know much about nurse practitioners. 

"The only thing is with them, we heard that they ... cannot prescribe. Is that true?" asked Vera Botchko.

In fact, nurse practitioners can prescribe many medications, order diagnostic tests and refer patients to specialists.