Wilkinson announces $273,740 for Family Health Teams physician assistant

Residents of Minto, Mapleton and surrounding areas will be receiving improved access to family health care with the addition of a physician assistant to its Family Health Team.

On Feb. 26 Perth-Wellington MPP John Wilkinson announced provincial funding for the hiring of physician assistant Jim Tolmie.

“It’s wonderful any time a community can get better access to health care closer to home,” Wilkinson said. 

As one of 20 receiving a physician assistant –  and the only one in the Waterloo-Wellington Local Health Integration Network – the team will get $273,400 over two years.

Tolmie began work March 1 and his role is to help the local family health team by:

– reducing the number of patients without a family health care provider;

– increasing access to family health care, by enhanc­ed health promotion, disease prevention, and chronic disease management programs;and

– improving local co-ordination of care.

Dr. Michael Kam, physician assistant supervisor,  said the team is “very excited to have recruited a physician assistant  as experienced and well trained as Jim Tolmie to our family health team.

“Jim brings with him a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge from his time in the Canadian Armed Forces and Cambridge Memorial Hospital. We look forward to having Jim work side by side with physicians … to improve the overall health of our community.”

Like physician assistants in the Canadian Armed Forces and in Manitoba, those in Ontario are supplementing doctor services and work under the authority of a physician.

More than 100 of them are currently practicing across Ontario and 67 students are registered in the two-year physi­cian assistant program at four Ontario universities.

Wilkinson, who was representing Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Deb Matth­ews, said the announcement is another step to improving health care in rural Ontario.

“The care that is as close to home as possible is the best care … and it’s also the least expensive care compared to the alternatives,” he said.

He added, “Starting next year, the very first of the baby boomers are turning 65. That’s going to be over one-quarter of our population over 65. And people who are retired, our seniors, need the most amount of care.”

Wilkinson said new models have been found on how professionals can work in cooperation and use their unique skills to add to the team.

“There’s a new evolution, a new member of the team in Ontario health care … They are called physician assistants,” said Wilkinson. “Our community has been lucky enough to snag one of the most experienced physician assistants in the province.”

Wilkinson explained they have existed for the past 40 years, starting with the U.S.?military. Tolmie began his work in the Canadian Armed Forces. When family health teams were surveyed for interest, Minto-Mapleton’s team applied and was successful.

Jerome  Quenneville, president and chief executive officer?of the Wellington Health Care Alliance, congratulated the team?on its leadership role  to en­hance care in the local community and broaden the spectrum of care providers. He said the team continues to have a strong record and noted that in Janu­ary, the Waterloo-Wellington local health integration network?approved a rural health review document that considers primary care, including hospitals, family health teams, and community providers.

“These are types of initiatives we need to bring that forward,” said Quenneville.

In welcoming Tolmie, Map­leton Mayor John Green said, “I’m certain you are going to be a great service to the Minto-Mapleton Family Health Team. We’re very proud of what we’ve achieved in Mapleton and Minto, both with the clinic here and the one in Clifford.”

Network member Bruce Schieck said, “I think this is a great asset to the community.” He noted the focus of the LHIN?this year will be on rural health care.

Shirley Borges, administrator of the Minto-Mapleton team, added it was Dr. Chris Cressey who first had the idea for a local team four years ago, when such organizations were still in the development phase.

“Today, four years later, you see a phenomenal team and resource for care in Minto and Mapleton,” said Borges.

Cressey was pleased to see Tolmie join the team.

“I first learned about physician assistants at a meeting about five or six years ago,” Cressey said. “A couple of of military guys came and presented their program and their qualifications to us. As general practitioners in Ontario we thought this was a good thing and that these were people we could work well with … never dreaming I’d have one to work with myself. We’re moving from a doctor and a patient and a 10 minute visit, to a whole system of care.”

Cressey said if one looked at illness patterns, North Well­ington is worse off than Guelph, Kitchener and Water­loo Region.

“We’re better than 20 years ago, but we still get 1.5 to 2 times as much cardiac disease as people in the city,” he said. “I’m sure a lot of it is lifestyle, education and possibly income. We’ve got more work to do here to bring our patients up to the level of health the rest of the province enjoys.”

He believes Tol­mie will be a great asset to the team.

“Getting a PA approved is one thing; getting Jim here is excellent,” Cressey said. “He’s reliable, he has a great track record, and he’s going to work well with us.”

Tolmie thanked the Minis­try of Health and Healthforce Ontario, which have been pushing the program.

“I really look forward to working here in Drayton,” said Tolmie.

He applied at two other locations and had a job offer waiting for him at one of those places when he met Dr. Kam, who suggested he consider taking a look at Mapleton.

“Right away, I knew this was where I needed to work,” Tolmie said. “PAs are definitely a skilled profession and have provided successful physician-like care in the military community, where I spent 26 years.”

Tolmie worked at Cam­bridge Memorial Hospital for the past three years, and though ready for his new role, he admitted he was a bit nervous addressing the large crowd.

“You know I served in Bosnia, but I’ve never been so nervous,” he said.

But, he added, “I’m just one piece of the puzzle. It’s going to be an incredible team and we’re all going to work together.”

Tolmie said his position will allow doctors to focus on areas where they feel they need to spend more time. His role will involve relieving some of that stress by being able to talk with patients and deal with families. Tolmie is originally from Thunder Bay, but joined the military in 1973.

“I’ve been stationed all over,” he said, noting he spent eight years in Germany, five years in Victoria, about 12 years in Kingston, and his last posting in the military was in Toronto, where he commuted from Guelph.

He also spent six months in Bosnia in 2003-04 and was involved in training for Af­ghan­istan. When the physician assistant initiative came out, Tolmie saw an opportunity to step aside from the regular for­ces and focus on a civilian career.

“I’m still a reservist,” he said.

In explaining why he took the Minto-Mapleton job, Tol­mie said, “Immediately, I felt very comfortable and was re­ceived very well. They were very positive, very friendly, and there was a real sense they were anxious to see this role come in here.

“That really solidified my decision,” he said. “Plus, there was a PA student from Mc­Master here at the time, so I knew they’d seen the potential. I really felt this was the proper place.

“I immediately let them know this was a place I would be interested in and it snowballed from there. I’m pretty excited.”