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Fort William Family Health

Fort William Family Health Team Move Their Office Adjacent To The Hospital


by Scott A. Sumner

     After decades of practicing medicine in the downtown Fort William area the Fort William Family Health Team are moving into a brand new 18,000 square feet office on Golf Links Road immediately adjacent to the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre. This team of 17 family physicians is excited about having more space and a better set up of offices to serve their large patient base.


    Dr. Jennifer Atwood is a family Physician at the Fort William Family Health Team and Lead Physician. She went to the University of Western Ontario, University of Ottawa and then did residency in Thunder Bay. “We came home to Thunder Bay to be closer to family, for the lifestyle of Thunder Bay and the affordability and cost of living as well.”

   Dr Graham Exley is a Family Physician and Associate Lead Physician at the Fort William Family Health Team. He went to the University of Guelph, McMaster University and then came back here for residency for 2 years in family medicine.

  “ My whole family and my wife's family are from here so it is nice to be close to them. I like Thunder Bay, grew up here and it is home for me.”

   Jennifer has worked at the Fort William Family Health Team since January 2006 and Graham since August 2009. The clinic was formed in the late 40’s or early 50’s. Today there are 17 family physicians and the clinic has been all primary care for about three years. They also employ 2 nurse practioniers, 3 nurses, 1 dietician and 3 social workers who act as mental health councillors whom provide a variety of services for their patients.  The Fort William Family Health Team has easily 10% of the Thunder Bay population as patients and these patients are from everywhere in Thunder Bay.

    “ It has been about 8 years since we became this family health team. That means we have been able to hire all these allied health professionals that provide a variety of services to the patients. We have really grown as a team since then and have outgrown the old physical space. We needed more space to accommodate the staff and the programs we offer,” said Dr Jennifer Atwood. “ We had 11,000 square feet of space and the new office is 18,000 square feet. Being adjacent to the hospital will  also be very efficient as we all see our patients at the hospital when they are admitted so it will easier to get there.”

     “ Those of us that work here at the Fort William Family Health Team also work at the hospital every single day so we make a stop at the Hospital and office. To work in our group you have to go to the hospital as well. Your family doctor knows you the best of any physician and you feel the most comfortable with them, so having that person care for you during a hospital stay is comforting. It is good for continuity care as well as after you are discharged. We also have partners that deliver babies so being close to the hospital will be very  good for them.” said Atwood.

    Originally the Fort William Family Health Team had Practice Solutions of the Canadian Medical Association tour their space and tell them what was needed. The square footage required was then developed. The medical team then dealt with FORM Architects of Thunder Bay and have been working with Cory Stechyshyn there for 1-and1/2 years.

    “ The daunting and exciting part of starting anew is you can design the flow that works for you and the organization. We work very collaborative in teams with physicians and allied health providers. In general our physicians are young with current training. The collaborative team approach is the modern approach,” said Dr. Graham Exley. “ The Government of Ontario started the team approach several years ago. There is research, which shows that people with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, arthritis or high blood pressure are better managed by a team of physicians, a nurse and dietician. This model has helped us recruit new physicians because people want to work with this approach.”


    “Today’s physician has become more conscious of the need for a work life balance. It is not sustainable to work the old way and today it is harder to manage a large number of patients that way as people live longer and have more complex problems and more treatments available. There are more tests and screening to do the care of any person today. It is more complicated than 30 years ago.,” said Atwood.

    “ Patients today are more aware of their own issues and what options they have available. Now they have a discussion with the doctor as they have more understanding of their situation. The physicians role is more of a collaborative with the patent as opposed to the old paternalistic model where the physician told the patient what to do,” said Atwood. “  You can’t really provide full scope good care with 5 minute visits with a patient anymore. You need more time and if you spend more time you can’t manage the same numbers of patients. Gone are the days of these large practices and being replaced with one physician managing fewer patients in the scope of the team.  The goal of the team is to deal with all the issues of the patient. You deal with prevention of issues and also to teach the patients self management skills for their own condition, so what they can do to better manager their arthritis, diabetes or high blood pressure so hopefully over time they will use the team less.”

     It took a long time for the Fort William Family Health Team to find their new location. “ We looked at many locations prior to this choice. It was a matter of finding the right amount of space with the right amount of parking in an area that was accessible to people on a bus route. We will have a parking fee to enter but no meters. Patient was running out to feed their meters before but won’t have to at the new location. The old space wasn’t really accessible in and out and throughout. The new building will be much more accessible.” said Atwood.

    “ The new location will be more of the way we want it. There has been up and downs getting the office. Sometimes we felt we had the right space but it didn’t work out but you had to keep the long-term goal in mind that eventually we will have the right space. It is nice to see the light at the end of this process,” said Exley. “  The prospect of moving can be daunting and we have had a few delays in the move for various construction issues which can be stressful. We are now organized for the move. We would like to make this move with as much access to the patients along the way.”

    Will the Fort William Family Health Team be taking any new patients at their new location? “ I can’t commit as to whether we will bring on new patients. We are facing some retirements of our senior physicians and we want to take care of those patients first but are attracting new physicians here.  It is possible some of those physicians will accept new patients from outside of the group,” said Dr Jennifer Atwood. “  Our nurse parishioners are here to work with our current patients of the team to provide good access. Usually our patients can get in within a day. They can come to our after hour clinics or see the nurse parishioners.”

   “ I’m excited to see the patients reactions to the new space and for us to functions as a team as we want in this new space. It really represents a great step for us and a change in the way we do things. It has been and will continue to be a learning experience.,” said Dr. Graham Exley.  

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