Applications are already rolling in for a new family practice set to open in Fort Erie next month.
With less than four weeks to go before opening day, it’s clear Primary Care Niagara will provide a much-needed service in the community.
When Dr. Artaj Singh, the lead physician at Primary Care, opened a clinic in Niagara Falls more than a decade ago, he said it was one of the only ones in the city, which was medically underserviced at the time.
He said all that’s changed because the Niagara Falls has done a “really good job” of recruiting new physicians.
“Just within 10 minutes of our location, there are now five clinics,” he said.
Now, Singh hopes to improve access to health care in Fort Erie. He joined Tim Windsor, director of clinical services, Joanne Ferraccioli, the Town’s community health-care services coordinator, and other stakeholders on Wednesday at Primary Care Niagara for an early celebration of the grand opening of the new family practice and urgent care clinic.
The renovations of the building have been completed and now the equipment is being moved in just in time for the official opening on March 4 at the Garrison Plaza on the corner of Garrison Road and Thompson Road.
Mayor Wayne Redekop presented Singh with a certificate from the Town to mark the occasion. Following the presentation, the doctor spoke about the importance of having access to health care.
Fort Erie, he said, is one of the most “medically underserviced” municipalities in the region.
Based on Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care guidelines, Singh said Fort Erie should have about 16 to 18 full-time family physicians, and according to surveys, the municipality only has six full-time and six part-time physicians to serve the community, which has more than 30,000 residents.
Singh said getting an appointment with a family doctor can take up to six weeks or more—something the doctor said he hopes to change for many people, with Primary Care Niagara bringing three new physicians to the community.
It isn’t just Greater Fort Erie residents who are experiencing long wait times for access to care. Singh pointed to communities such as Welland and Port Colborne. As Primary Care Niagara’s clinics in Welland and Niagara Falls have done, Singh said he expects the Fort Erie location will draw patients from other communities in Niagara, as well.
“We’re talking about a pocket of about 100,000 people, so people say why Fort Erie? When you look at this pocket of the population that is so underserved, it’s about 100,000 people we’re hoping to serve.”
While the state-of-the-art facility aims to provide acute care, Singh said there will also be a strong focus on providing preventative care for residents.
He purchased the Garrison Square Plaza, at 660 Garrison Road in 2004, with a vision to create a “medical campus” offering a variety of health services on site including a medical laboratory, a full-service pharmacy, a psychology and counselling centre, a hearing and audiology clinic and foot clinic in addition to office space and nine exam rooms.
He said the facility will provide a weekly women’s health-care clinic, and beginning in May, physiotherapy services. Another specialist has also signed on to provide part-time cardiac care and diabetic care.
With so many services being made available on site, Singh said more specialists are interested in coming.
“I have a commitment from a general surgeon who will start doing a regular clinic here at the beginning of April,” he said.
There’s “nothing definitive yet,” he said, but discussions are taking place as the Walker Family Cancer Centre has expressed an interest in having a part-time oncologist on site.
The idea is to make it more convenient for people who require services to be able to access them in their own community.
“They don’t have to drive 30 or 40 minutes, or however long it is, we’re bringing the services right here,” he said.
Windsor said patients will have access to “convenient medical care,” with Life Labs just across the parking lot.
“Remedy’s Rx, we persuaded them to come here. Gerard (Longval) has one of the largest pharmacies in the region,” he added.
Windsor also noted that Primary Care Niagara’s new Fort Erie location wouldn’t have been possible without “the good work” of the Town’s Economic Development and Tourism Corporation under former general manager Jim Thibert.
Caralee Grummett, the EDTC’s current general manager, said a lot of work and “conversations go on behind-the-scenes” into bringing new businesses such as Primary Care Niagara to Fort Erie.
“There’s a lot of excitement (about Primary Care Niagara opening),” she said, and added, “We’ve received a lot of positive feedback.”
She said the new business will act “like a magnet,” making Fort Erie more appealing to new businesses and developers.
“We’re getting inquiries from a lot of respected developers,” she said.
Singh said the Fort Erie location will offer Primary Care Niagara an opportunity to expand, something it wasn’t able to do in Niagara Falls, as it outgrew that location. Unlike many medical buildings in the Region, it will provide its patients with free parking.
He said the Niagara Falls location will close on Feb. 28, and Primary Care will continue to operate its other clinic in Welland.
The doctor explained opening the clinic in Fort Erie feels like “coming home” because he was once the medical director of Fort Erie Urgent Care, which opened in 2004. He said one of the team’s physicians, Hugh Mitchell, wanted to make the clinic a full-time commitment and took it over from Singh.
Redekop said the new facility will have a “big impact” on thousands of patients in Fort Erie who require care and provide an opportunity to “tap into some wonderful expertise.”
He also said partnerships are important, which is why the Town committed to a partnership with Primary Care Niagara. In December, the Town announced an agreement it had to provide a $35,000 grant to assist the family practice and clinic with start-up costs.
The new clinic in Fort Erie will be open on weekdays. Services will be available from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. on Monday, Thursday and Friday. Extended hours will be available on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
For more information about Primary Care Niagara visit www.primarycareniagara.com/.