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Town will have nurse practitioner for those without local doctor

A long-awaited nurse practitioner has finally been hired and is expected to begin looking after Niagara-on-the-Lake residents April 8

This story was first published by Niagara-on-the-Lake Local, a Village Media publication.

A long-awaited nurse practitioner has finally been hired and is expected to begin looking after Niagara-on-the-Lake residents April 8.

Coun. Sandra O’Connor, instrumental in helping to obtain the funding for the position, told The Local she was invited to be part of the recruitment process by Niagara North Family Health Team CEO Mary Keith, and she’s delighted with the result. Amy Bolduc, who has extensive experience with Niagara Health, was offered the job and accepted. “I think she’s going to be fabulous,” O’Connor said.

To accommodate the position, a NOTL Health Care Clinic has been established in the Village Medical Centre on Garrison Village Drive, with an office that will share the receptionists and waiting room area with the family health team doctors in the building, explained O’Connor.

The nurse practitioner will serve those in town without a family doctor, along with visitors to the area, both walk-ins and by appointment, and will provide ongoing chronic, preventative, and urgent care.

“I don’t know if people realize how much a nurse practitioner can do,” said O’Connor. With their ability to refer patients to specialists, and write prescriptions, those without a family doctor “wouldn’t necessarily need one.”

At one time there were 8,000 NOTL residents waiting for a family doctor, said O’Connor, but with two new general practitioners having joined the family health team recently, that number might be lower.

There is “a bit of a twist” to the way the Niagara Health System finally agreed to the position, said O’Connor. She began the push for another nurse practitioner almost three years ago, during the last term of council, hoping to fill a gap for those in town without a family doctor. Although there were two such positions as part of the Niagara North Family Health Team at the time, she was concerned about the lack of health care for those in the community who were not rostered patients, as well as visitors to town.

MPP Wayne Gates quickly came onboard, pressing the provincial government for funding, and Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa teamed up with Gates and O’Connor this term to help make it happen. Last fall, Gates and Zalepa wrote a letter lobbying the provincial minister of health to pave the way for a nurse practitioner in town, and Gates brought it up at Queen’s Park more than once. The health minister, he said, had promised money to fund the position, but for a long time it never went any further than a promise.

O’Connor said she heard earlier this year that the Niagara Health System was to receive $2.1 million in new provincial funding for “a long list of things” to enhance primary medical care, including hiring more nurse practitioners — but not for NOTL.

She quickly reached out to Lynne Guerriero, president and CEO of the Niagara Health System, and told her about the efforts to get funding for a nurse practitioner in NOTL. “She said we could have had that position transferred from the NHS two years ago. I politely asked if there was anything she could do to help us now.”

O’Connor then heard from Mary Keith “that we were getting a nurse practitioner. Gary (Lord Mayor Zalepa) and I met with her, and she gave me a copy of a letter and email describing this position, saying Lynne had reached out about it on my behalf, as a result of my email, and that’s what helped it over the finish line.”

O’Connor said she also found out about what was at least part the reason for the delay, and “the complexity of making this happen.”

Two years ago, Ontario health systems that were part of LHINs, or Local Health Integration Networks, became part of a reorganized system called the Ontario Health Team, with a Niagara branch that was part of Ontario Health Team West.

“That transition from one organization to another held up our request for that position,” said O’Connor. And although provincial funding goes to the Niagara Health System, it is now family health teams who manage the position, she explained.

In a town news release, Gates said the successful funding for the nurse practitioner “is a perfect example of what we can accomplish when we work together. I want to thank Lord Mayor Zalepa and town staff for working closely with my office to highlight the importance of getting a nurse practitioner back in town and keeping it a priority for the government. I also want to thank town council, local media, and residents of the town for continuing to raise this issue. Ensuring residents have access to high-quality, public health care, when and where they need it, remains a top priority and is a big win for the community.”

Gates told The Local O'Connor has been "the driving force" behind this, working with him, his staff and the lord mayor to help get it done. "It's been a real team effort," he added — and it's not finished. There will also be a need for operating costs that haven't been covered yet.

Zalepa said council is excited to welcome a nurse practitioner to the community, “and all the positive impact on our community's health and well-being, providing much-needed medical care to those in need. This is a great step forward in ensuring everyone in our community has access to quality healthcare. Thank you to the Niagara North Family Health Team for their incredible efforts in helping Niagara-on-the-Lake recruit a nurse practitioner."

The information on the family health team website lists the hours for the nurse practitioner as Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with pre-booked appointments in the morning and a walk-in clinic in the afternoon.

For more information about the NOTL Health Care Clinic and its services, visit

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