In a region that is already so burdened by a doctor shortage, the recent news of the City of Kenora’s interest in divesting the Keewatin Medical Clinic has come as a shock to most of the community.  

The public was made aware of the situation after the City of Kenora put out a public call for expressions of interest to divest the Keewatin Medical Clinic.  

Construction of the Keewatin Medical Clinic was completed in 1985 after the culmination of community efforts by the residents of Keewatin who successfully fundraised 50 per cent of the cost of the project. Funding was then matched by the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund to complete the financing.  

After the construction was completed, the Corporation of the Town of Keewatin acquired the property and signed an agreement with the founding physician, Dr. Waldy Loewen, to lease the property as well as to repay to the Town the amount that the citizens raised. 

The repayment of the original fundraising contribution was completed in 1992. The building then continued to be leased to the physicians who worked there.  

The Keewatin Medical Clinic services approximately 2500 citizens of Kenora and Keewatin and is the only “cradle to grave service” according to Dr. Joel Kroeker, one of the physicians who work at the clinic. This was said during a deposition with the Kenora City Council at the last Committee of the Whole Meeting on June 7. 

“From managing obstetrics including C-section service, care throughout life including serving our own patients in hospital and care at the end of life including providing care in the long-term care facilities and palliative care.” 

“Our physicians embody the diverse skill set unique to rural specialists, and provide a spectrum of services to the community (and not limited only to patients of our clinic) including cancer chemotherapy, minor surgery, emergency room care, hospitalist care, advanced diagnostic test interpretation, and obstetrical care to patients of other practices.” 

Dr. Kroeker noted that the Keewatin Medical team is the only clinic in the area to provide this level of service and continuity.  

It has been proven year after year that the Keewatin Medical Clinic creates and houses fantastic physicians. Dr. Tim Wehner was recognized as Ontario Family Physician of the Year and Dr. Shannon Wiebe was recognized as this year’s Ontario Rural ER Physician of the Year.  

The Keewatin Clinic has proven to be an effective training and recruitment facility for Kenora. Of the 15 physicians currently in Kenora with family practices, 8 were trained in the Keewatin Medical Clinic as students or residents. The Keewatin Medical Clinic works with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) to help train future doctors.  

“We are from Kenora and have committed to serve Kenora. Two of us were born and raised in Kenora and trained in the Keewatin clinic. The other two have made this our home, raised families here and have lived here for more than 20 years,” said Kroeker.  

“Our clinic has been a model of stability, with no unexpected turnover of providers in the past 20 years. Our stability is not guaranteed however and is now at risk. Even the possibility of sale of our building has been destabilizing as it has created uncertainty for our patients, staff and providers.” 

The doctors have stressed that the privatization of the Keewatin Medical Clinic Building would only create further pressure for the staff and patients of the clinic by creating the perpetual risk of loss of the purpose of the building.  

Many have viewed this move from the City as a mixed message, after years of public outcry for more family physicians in the area, why threaten the medical service of 2500 additional residents? 

“The building was built with the sole purpose of providing care to the citizens as a project initiated by the people, and we believe there is at least an ethical and moral obligation on the part of the City to act as a steward in this to ensure that the patients of the clinic can be confident that they will be able to access medical care there, as they have since the day it opened.” 

At the end of the deposition, the Physicians shared multiple solutions that in their view, would satisfy the needs of everyone.  

“Our first choice would be simply to maintain the status quo. We have been happy to have the City as our landlord. The City could retain ownership of this asset and would be seen as a progressive and modern community that values medical care. We would continue to lease the building and provide services there.” 

“The second option would be to follow a process analogous to what was done with another clinic in Kenora, to transfer the building to an existing or new non-profit corporation to take over stewardship of the asset.” 

To conclude the remarks, Kroeker delivered a powerful statement “No matter the outcome, the four of us wanted to be able to look our patients in the eye and tell them that we stood up for them today, and whatever the City’s decision is, it was made with all of the relevant information available to them.” 

The City is yet to make a decision on the fate of the building.