In Ontario’s easternmost municipality of Cornwall, Dr. Ryan Hartley appreciates the diversity of medical specialties represented in his clinic, which employs doctors, nurse practitioners, dietitians, and others.
With COVID-19 straining Cornwall’s medical resources, Dr. Hartley and the team have stepped up to fill critical gaps for the community.
“We adjusted schedules and adapted processes in order to address acute issues and alleviate pressures on our community hospital, while still meeting the needs of our patients,” he says.
Dr. Leo Gnanaraj, another family doctor on the team, also acknowledges the mutual support. “When the crisis hit, it became apparent that our interprofessional team was more important than ever, and we restructured to effectively serve our community,” he says.
And on the north shore of Lake Superior, Dr. Barb Zelek, a family physician in Marathon, echoes these sentiments: “I was amazed by how different facets of primary care in Marathon were able ramp up COVID-19 testing: we went from doing two to three swabs a day to over 70. This required incredible coordination with the hospital, clinic, and all the people affiliated with both. By being able to respond and provide that volume of testing, I truly believe we were able to help prevent spread.”
Ramping up also means doing what’s necessary in office to ensure patients can access the care they need.
For Dr. Hartley and his team in Cornwall, this is no slight commitment.
“I have been providing face-to-face appointments for high-risk clients and virtual care as needed, as well as home visits if required,” he says. “Our model of health and wellbeing supports access for everyone, no matter who they are or where they live.”
Online consultations brought about new benefits as well, notes Dr. Gnanaraj. “Virtual encounters provided me more time to speak with my patients, and their health outcomes were not compromised in any way,” he says.
Dr. Melissa Holowaty, whose family practice is based in Marmora, has made it a priority to continue to provide high-quality care despite mandated physical distancing—and to ensure service isn’t compromised for patients with long-term illnesses, or those who have limited mobility or access to technology.
“We changed to fewer appointments in general, spacing out patients so there was no overlap in the waiting room,” says Dr. Holowaty. “Lots of visits were switched to a virtual format, but only with patient consent.”