After four years of planning and hard work, a medical clinic has opened at the new Lighthouse shelter in Orillia.
“Building this clinic has been a dream of Nancy’s,” Lighthouse executive director Linda Goodall said of Nancy Sutherland.
Sutherland is a retired nurse practitioner who volunteered with the Lighthouse’s Building Hope campaign as the lead for the clinic. She was at the Queen Street shelter Tuesday, when the clinic opened.
“I’ve always wanted to bring something forward for the vulnerable population in Orillia,” said Sutherland, who tried in the past to establish a clinic at Couchiching Jubilee House.
When she retired and learned of the possibility of doing something similar at the Lighthouse, she jumped at the opportunity.
“It’s just the right thing to do,” she said.
It’s also a much-needed service, Goodall added.
“Those experiencing homelessness have a higher percentage of mental health and physical ailments and don’t necessarily get the proper medication or the treatment that they need because they’re living on the street,” she said.
It’s a fact Dr. Anna Naylor knows well.
The family physician, who will be working at the Lighthouse clinic for a half-day every week, to start, has worked in shelter clinics in Hamilton and Kingston.
“Often, people who are experiencing homelessness don’t have the opportunity to see a doctor in the early stages of a disease process and often end up using emergency resources when things have gone on to the point where it becomes an urgent issue rather than tackling the issue in the early stages,” she said. “That’s what this clinic can do. It can provide some primary care, some preventative care to address issues before they become emergencies.”
Even for those who do seek care, navigating the system can be a struggle.
“To be someone who’s experiencing homelessness and all the chaos that surrounds that — sometimes not having access to a phone, a computer, a health card — it can make it very prohibitive to get the health care that you need,” she said.
Naylor joined the Building Hope team about a year-and-a-half ago and was eager to see the clinic come to fruition in an area where it’s needed but not common.
“Homelessness as a problem is often perceived as an urban issue, and that’s similar in health care,” she said. “Resources don’t tend to be directed towards this issue in less populous areas, so I was quite excited when I heard about this project.”
Partnerships are what made the new Lighthouse possible, and the same can be said for the clinic.
Naylor and Sutherland praised the Couchiching Ontario Health Team for its support of the clinic.
“We couldn’t do this without community partners, and Orillia is an amazing community,” Sutherland said.
In October, two more physicians — Bernardine Murphy and Rebecca Van Iersel — will join the clinic, also for half-day visits. The three half-days per week could be increased depending on demand.
Sutherland hopes to see an expansion of services. The goal is to eventually have a nurse practitioner involved, as well as services focusing on foot and dental care.
Simcoe County paramedics are also part of the program and are on site once a week.
The clinic is open only to those in the Lighthouse shelter and supportive housing units. The plan is to eventually offer medical care to anyone using any of the Lighthouse’s services, such as the community meal program when it resumes.