Nurse practitioner-led clinic accepting new patients in Smiths Falls

The nurse practitioner-led clinic is accepting new patients in Smiths Falls. – Photo via Pexels

The Smiths Falls Nurse Practitioner-Led Clinic is accepting new patients.

Nurse Practitioner (NP) Nicole Smith has a dual role – she’s the board chair of the clinic and she’s also an NP at the Smiths Falls Community Health Centre.

She spoke to council during a regular committee of the whole meeting on Monday, April 22, and gave an overview on the NP-led clinic.

“Although we’ve been working in Ontario since the late 1990s, I am always surprised to find out how many folks are unfamiliar with the role of the nurse practitioner,” she said.

Smith spoke of the road to becoming an NP, which starts with a four-year university degree to become a registered nurse. Then the RN works for at least two years in Ontario before becoming eligible to return to school to train as an NP, which is a three-year graduate program to earn a master’s of science degree in nursing. The next step is the licensing exam and once successfully completed, an NP can practise independently.

There are currently about 5,100 NPs across the province – 78 per cent of them work independently.

“The role has really evolved in the last 25 years,” Smith said. “We work predominately in clinics but we work in a very similar role to family physicians. We see patients of all ages. We diagnose them, send them for tests and imaging, prescribe medications. We do basic counselling, and we refer to specialists – basically help them and their families stay healthy.”

The NP-led clinic has been in operation for the past 12 years; Smith was introduced to it when she worked there as a student in 2018.

“It really opened my eyes to the amazing care the clinic provides daily to the people of Smiths Falls,” she said.

Smith said she was so keen to support this method of care that she volunteered to become a member of the board.

This not-for-profit clinic is funded by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. It’s community-governed and provides primary health care in a team-based environment to thousands of patients. These NP-clinics have been developed to support primary health care in communities that have been historically underserviced, Smith said.

The clinic in Smiths Falls has 14 staff members: five NPs who each has their own roster of patients; two registered nurses, administrative support and allied professionals that include a social worker, registered dietitian and a pharmacist.

Smith said NPs are the primary health care providers for about 30 per cent of the provincial population.

The Smiths Falls NP-led clinic is accepting new patients who do not have a primary caregiver right now, she said.

“We ask that people call Healthcare Connect to be attached to the clinic and you can call them at 1-800-445-1822.”

Coun. Dawn Quinn is a client at this clinic, and she touted the praises of her NP. She said she wishes there could be more in town.

“It’s wonderful,” she said. “Our healthcare system is struggling and I see nurse practitioners as being an answer to help and get things where we should be.”

Coun. Peter McKenna said although it’s tough to get healthcare currently, 12 years ago, “we were in a really deep crisis. I don’t know where we’d be without the nurse practitioner-led clinic taking on those thousands of patients … The best news tonight is that you’re still taking new patients and clients.”

Mayor Shawn Pankow appreciated the information.

“I think that’s probably something that many people who are unattached in our community now maybe were not aware of. I’m glad you’re here to express that. Hopefully, some word gets out that there is some opportunity there.”

Smith said it’s not uncommon for them to get new patients who haven’t had care in 10-plus years.

It is estimated that there are between 2,000 and 4,000 patients in need of a physician or nurse practitioner in the Lanark County/Smiths Falls catchment area.

Pankow asked if there have been changes in people’s health following COVID.

“What’s the reality that people on the front lines of health care are experiencing?” the mayor asked.

Smith said in her patients, she’s seeing a “really big mental health struggle … in our teenage population right now.”

Smith said she’s “quite stunned actually, at how significant their struggles are … returning to school, social issues, depression, anxiety.”

Pankow asked if they are able to make the connections to mental health services.

Smith said that’s the “really big challenge” as a primary care provider to try to get those connections for people.

“We have a lot of community partners,” she said. “There is just not enough of any of us to go around.”

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