The Gleaner
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Local farmers encourage growing health co-op

Not all of the impacts of COVID-19 in the Valley have been negative.

The Ici Santé health cooperative has been experiencing a pandemic-fueled increase in membership, so much so that it has been opening an extra day per week to meet demand at both the Howick and Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague locations.

The co-op has a growing reputation for providing basic medical services that are difficult to access through traditional means without a long wait. Two local farmers, Jason Ness and Eric Ness, recently nominated the co-op for the Canada’s Farmers Grow Communities program, which aims to strengthen rural communities by funding the non-profit organizations that sustain them. Consequently, the co-op was one of 66 organizations selected to receive a $2,500 grant provided by the Bayer Fund which manages the program. The funds will help Ici Santé to purchase equipment and grow its community nursing services.

 

An online auction launched last December raised an additional $5,000 to help the co-op continue its mission. “We knew this kind of support was there with our members, but we needed something yearly or annual,” says nurse Amy Tolhurst, who admits that demand for services has, at times, outstretched income.

As a result, members will now be asked to make a $25 annual contribution to the co-op. Currently members can opt to either purchase an annual membership for $125, which includes unlimited blood tests and services, or pay a fee per service. Tolhurst acknowledges that the upfront cost of the annual membership is not something that is feasible for all members, saying the co-op has adjusted its structure to ensure its services remained accessible.

Valuable resource for local doctors

Word-of-mouth referrals have long helped to bolster the coop’s membership, but a more recent factor has been an increasing tendency for local doctors to send their patients to the co-op for services. “The delay at CLSCs and hospitals is really long,” says administrative assistant Émilie Larivière, who notes she often hears about delays and cancellations from patients who have come to Ici Santé.

“More and more, the government is looking to health co-ops to help supply the services they are not able to provide through the system right now,” explains Tolhurst, noting that Ici Santé works especially closely with the laboratory at the Barrie Memorial Hospital.

As for the future, Tolhurst admits the recruitment of a doctor is never “off our agenda.” In the short term, however, the co-op hopes to continue its growth by bringing more services to the Valley. She says it is especially interested in acquiring “more office space to accommodate and partner with others in the healthcare sector.”

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