COVID-19 hasn’t been the only public health emergency in Canada—and numerous other countries—over the past year. The global opioid crisis, for instance, is ongoing, and family doctors across Ontario have had their hands full dealing with a viral pandemic and an overdose epidemic at the same time.
For Dr. Angela Wong, preventable opioid-related deaths are top of mind. While she makes sure to keep her family practice accessible to patients at South Riverdale Community Health Centre in east-end Toronto, she is also deeply concerned about the preventable opioid-related deaths that result when society’s most vulnerable are cut off from primary care.
Despite moving many primary care appointments to online platforms, a top priority for Dr. Wong and her team has been maintaining in-person Consumption Treatment Services. She has helped ensure the doors stay open throughout the pandemic and has run food security programs, offering daily takeaway meals for those in need.
Ottawa Public Health has been working closely with Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health and Akausivik Inuit Family Health Team to offer vaccinations to First Nations, Inuit and Métis community members in Ottawa. Since starting to offer vaccines in the middle of February, they have provided first doses to more than 14,000 people.
Dr. Sarah Funnell, a First Nations family physician and public health specialist in Ottawa, helped promote these vaccination clinics operated by primary care providers as culturally safe spaces where Indigenous community members could receive the vaccine. Given high demand, the vaccine clinic was relocated to a municipal recreation centre to accommodate more Indigenous clients.
Dr. Funnell is encouraged by this move to a larger venue because compared to the general public, Indigenous peoples “are most at risk of poor outcomes such as hospitalization and death and serious health consequences” if they contract COVID-19.
She says that making Indigenous communities a high priority benefits everyone. “If we’re able to immunize those that are most at risk of getting sick … we’ll have a better chance of decreasing the overall transmission and will be a bit closer to getting back to what our new normal will be.”
In March 2021, when Mississauga’s Dr. Sohal Goyal joined Peel Region’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts, he says the acceleration of Ontario’s mass inoculation in primary care left him “giddy” with excitement. He had already been vaccinating residents in long-term care, as part of a team with public health.
Family doctors are a mainstay of vaccination, delivering a large share of flu shots in their clinics every season. “This is what we do as family doctors,” he notes. “We’re excited to finally be able to contribute. And hopefully, this will mean that all family doctors will be given the opportunity across the province.”
Integrating new vaccination duties into already busy practices brings added challenges, and Dr. Goyal, who lost his father to COVID-19 complications in January, spent hours every night preparing to deliver his first batch of shots. For him, though, the extra effort was more than worthwhile: “Each of these needles could potentially save a life.”
source: Adina Bresge The Canadian Press, Mar 13, 2021