Although some 87 per cent of respondents to a 2012 survey in Innisfil state they have a family doctor, 40 per cent of those physicians are from outside the community and as far away as Hamilton. That is one of the findings of the Innisfil Healthy Communities Assessment Report completed by York nursing professors and students.
The Town of Innisfil partnered with York’s School of Nursing to identify the health needs of the community and develop recommendations. It gave eight third- and fourth-year students in the School of Nursing in York’s Faculty of Health a hands-on experiential learning opportunity where they helped conduct an actual community assessment.
“It provided a living laboratory for the students,” says Grace Ross, the project coordinator and course director for the undergraduate nursing course, Community as Partner. Usually, they get to conduct an assessment of an agency, but this was a whole town.
The students hosted several focus group meetings and met with dozens of individuals – seniors, youth – and organizations to find out what health services were needed and what the challenges were to achieving healthy lifestyles and improved quality of life. Ross also conducted an online survey in conjunction with the town. She presented the final report to council in December to much applause. Council confirmed it would set the agenda going forward. “They’re taking it very seriously,” says Ross.
The report pointed to the need for improved access to doctors, nurses, specialists, urgent care and walk-in clinics, as well as mental health supports, services and crisis care.
The reason some people are driving 90 minutes to Hamilton to see a doctor speaks to the lack of health care services and doctors in the community, says Ross. “It’s a tremendous stress.” There is no urgent care clinic in Innisfil, which means residents have to go to the one in Barrie, but it closes at 7pm and there is often a two-hour wait. “That makes it very inaccessible and it’s just not all that feasible.” In addition, the local Innisfil doctors – three of the five recently left – are carrying double or triple the average caseload of a Toronto physician. This is particularly problematic as there are a many seniors and young families.
There are also no sexual health services for teens aside from a clinic in Barrie, which books its last appointment at 3pm, she says. It would be extremely difficult for teens in Innisfil to get there, especially as they’d have to go during school hours. It was recommended that a comprehensive assessment of the need for sexual health services in Innisfil be conducted and options be explored for establishing a clinic in the community or improving access to existing sexual health services. In addition, a mental health supports and services community assessment is needed.
The study also found a need for public transit so that people could more easily access medical services, as well as recreational opportunities, both of which contribute to a healthy community. Ross points to the town’s fairly new community recreation complex, but it’s stuck but in the middle of nowhere without bus service and many residents, especially the youth, don’t have access to a car. This study is unique, says Ross, because it considers the well-being of the community through the social determinants of health, which include adequate income, social status, social support networks, education, meaningful employment and health services.
What they found in Innisfil, however, is there is a real “sense of disconnect” and a feeling of isolation. It’s not surprising given the town was formed through the forced amalgamation of five different communities, says Ross. But residents noted there was no single place where they could find out what services were available. The town needs to do a better job of communicating to residents. In addition, there is a lack of access to jobs and recreational services and activities, particularly for youth.
“So these were the kinds of things that we found surprising,” says Ross.
Among the recommendations were that Innisfil get its own walk-in clinic, staffed by doctors from Barrie on a rotating basis, and that the town advocate for more doctors, more mental health services, some form of public transit system, sidewalks, bike paths, recognition of diversity and inclusivity for newcomers, and expanded employment opportunities. With 82 per cent of employed residents working outside of Innisfil, it’s no surprise that time spent commuting was cited as one of the biggest stress factors.
Council is already moving forward on some of the recommendations, including that of creating a central database of services on the town’s website and working toward holding municipal job fairs for youth. Council members were delighted at the breadth and depth of the study, and indicated it was beyond their expectations, says Ross. They unanimously accepted the report.
The Innisfil Healthy Communities Assessment Report was prepared by Ross and nursing Professor Christine Kurtz Landy. The Innisfil Healthy Communities Assessment committee was comprised of principal investigator Claire Mallette, director of the School of Nursing; Professor Cheryl Van Daalen-Smith; Elsabeth Jensen, graduate program director in nursing in the Faculty of Graduate Studies; and Dianne McCauley and Lynne Harwood-Lunn, who both teach in the school.