With health centre's expansion, N.S. municipality hopes to find doctor for every resident
Municipal council has approved $6.5M project and is seeking provincial funding
Call it the Nova Scotia health care's equivalent of Field of Dreams.
Since the Municipality of the District of Clare financed and opened its own health centre in 2008 with the hope of recruiting and retaining doctors in this picturesque Acadian community in the southwestern corner of the province, doctors have been coming.
Along with a regular influx of medical residents who train at the site, the health centre has nine doctors, a family practice nurse, blood collection, mental health and addictions services, and visiting clinics by a cardiovascular nurse and dietitian.
With three more doctors signed on to arrive by January, the site is bursting at the seams. So the municipal council has approved a $6.5-million construction project to add space. The expansion will accommodate up to five doctors, and will include study space for medical learners and physiotherapy services.
That should be enough to eventually take on the 4,500 people in Digby County who are currently in need of a family practice.
Construction is underway and officials hope it will be complete by early January.
"People need access to family doctors and, for us, this is our way of helping with a solution," Warden Yvon LeBlanc said in a recent interview.
"To be able to take patients that haven't had a doctor in a long time and actually, you know, roster them to a physician — for me, it's huge," said Dr. Michelle Dow.
Dow, who has worked in this community for 35 years and has served as a tireless advocate for recruitment, said successive municipal councils have understood the importance of being able to offer health-care services within the local community in both official languages.
It was that understanding, and a willingness to listen to doctors almost 20 years ago about what would be needed to ensure consistent care for the future, that has brought things to this point, said Dow.
"Our municipality, you know, their vision was really ahead of the time for 2005."
When Dow and other members of the health-centre team approached council about the need for more space to accommodate more doctors, to offer additional services and to take on more patients, LeBlanc said there wasn't any hesitation about what needed to happen.
Collaboration between council and health-centre staff and doctors, along with the support of community members, has contributed to the health centre's success, LeBlanc said.
"As long as everybody's on the same page, we can move forward with different options for the municipality."
A meaningful contribution
The municipality is hoping the provincial government will help fund the project. But LeBlanc said it will go ahead regardless, noting that council didn't wait for a decision on the matter before starting construction.
Presentations about the expansion and a request for financial support were made last year. Senior officials from the province have toured the site. But so far, LeBlanc and his council are still waiting on word about whether the Nova Scotia government will contribute.
"At the end of the day, we're trying to help them fix a provincial problem and we think we have a solution," said LeBlanc. "Our basic ask was for a meaningful contribution to the project."
The area's MLA, Ronnie LeBlanc (no relation to Yvon), said he thinks a meaningful contribution would be for the province to pick up most — if not all — of the construction costs.
"And the reason I say that is there's an ongoing cost there," said LeBlanc, who served as warden before entering provincial politics in 2021.
"The municipality is maintaining the centre, paying for staff, they're doing all of these things that are a provincial responsibility."
'A fairly easy decision'
Ronnie LeBlanc said he's been working with Digby MLA Jill Balser, the province's labour minister, on the issue and she is supportive. But he's frustrated by how long it's taking to get an answer from the Health Department.
The expansion project aligns with the Tory government's priorities of expanding access to primary care and providing better, faster access to health-care services, he said.
"To me, it should be a fairly easy decision."
A spokesperson for the Health Department said in a statement that officials continue to review the municipality's request and an update would be provided within the next month.