It’s 10 a.m. at the Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office. The community organization has only been open for an hour, but it’s already bustling with people. Toddlers play with toys in the preschool area, newcomers learn English in a classroom and those looking for employment are helped with resumes.
But with all of these services from a well-established organization that serves a third of the community annually, Thorncliffe residents are still undeserved in the area of primary healthcare.
The neighbourhood has 30,000 people and zero general practitioners. This prompted the TNO to create Health Access Thorncliffe Park, an initiative to integrate medical services into the community fabric. Two years after its inception, the program is bringing a health clinic to the area. It is off to a slow start, only being open for half days on Fridays. But there are plans to have a fully functioning clinic soon.
This initiative benefits not only Thorncliffe residents, but taxpayers in general. According to TNO executive director Ahmed Hussein, few residents leave the neighbourhood for healthcare, instead they go to walk in clinics. This burdens the medical system in a number of ways.
Without primary healthcare, many people go to the emergency for all procedures.
“That is a costly problem — going to the doctor for a 45-minute consultation is a tenth of the cost of a visit to the emergency,” Hussein said.
Going to the emergency for a preventable illness wastes time and space for those in much more critical conditions. Hussein also emphasized how crucial GP’s are for children and seniors, who need check ups more frequently.
Mohan Doss is the director of programs at the TNO. His job includes evaluating the efficiency of initiatives. Doss’ hope is for TNO to support the new primary healthcare centre with currently existing Thorncliffe programs.
He says they have build a unique “wraparound” model that is “integrated to include settlement, employment, housing, language, family, children and women’s services, all of them build around primary healthcare.”
It’s an idea he calls “one-stop shopping.” Doss thinks that having medical and community services all under one roof will better serve the community.
The TNO has learned this lesson from experience. The new health clinic replaced a pregnancy clinic that didn’t survive a year. Without the cornerstone of primary care, the initiative failed.
“You need to have integrated services with primary care at the centre, and then you can bring other services in,” said Hussein.
Greg Stevens is a senior consultant at the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network (LHIN). LHIN is Ontario’s local health authority, responsible for creating community health plans. They worked closely with the TNO to address the needs of one of Toronto’s youngest and most immigrant populated areas. Stevens also thinks that the closure of the pregnancy clinic was no major setback as it gave a better understanding of what Thorncliffe needs.
“We were able to step back and see after what the community needed in a more comprehensive approach,” he said. “The pregnancy clinic was a good chance to see what is needed and learn from the clinic in terms of operations.”
The primary care clinic is only the beginning. Stevens says various groups have submitted a proposal for more integrated health services, including TNO, the Flemingdon Health Centre and the Toronto East General Hospital. The proposal includes a call for more infrastructure which will allowed more cooperation between these groups, “complementing the services that are already there.” The Ministry of Health is currently overlooking the plan and should have an answer within the next six months. In the mean time, LHIN is investing into Thorncliffe’s health clinic to extend their hours.