A blue sign on white posts sits in low shrubbery as traffic goes by on the busy roadway behind. The sign says "Welcome to North Dartmouth. Where families & friendships grow."
Welcome to North Dartmouth sign on Nov. 1, 2023. Credit: Yvette d'Entremont

Although the finer details are still being ironed out, next year the community of Dartmouth North will welcome a new primary care clinic, urgent care centre, and other health-related services under one roof. 

Called the Dartmouth North Health Neighbourhood, it will include the Dartmouth North Start-up Clinic, a comprehensive primary care service and recruitment and resident teaching centre. 

It will also be home to Dartmouth North Care Centres, which will include an urgent care centre for evening and weekend visits in addition to a new primary care clinic. That clinic will be a care access point for residents who are unattached to a primary care provider. 

The new health neighbourhood will also include the Dartmouth North Shared Facility. That will boast a variety of health services, including blood collection, rehab services, a diabetes centre, the Nova Scotia Brotherhood Initiative and Nova Scotia Sisterhood, among others. 

“We have a very high population with very few health services. We have one primary care clinic, which is completely oversubscribed, and we have very high needs,” Dartmouth North NDP MLA Susan Leblanc said in an interview. 

“So we have the highest level of users of mental health and addiction services. We have very high levels of chronic disease, very high poverty, very low employment. So we’ve got the highest of the wrong things and the lowest of the right things.”

Leblanc also noted that Dartmouth North is also underserved in other ways, from its schools to a lack of recreational facilities. 

“It’s also an historical Black community. There’s a lot of reasons why investment is important here,” she said. 

Leblanc said for residents with complex medical needs and those who currently must leave the community for chronic care appointments, having services in Dartmouth North will make a huge difference.

Grassroots and community-driven

Having several health care-related services under one roof in the community was an idea Leblanc said was championed by a group of committed community members. In particular, she pointed to residents Linda Rowe, Robyne Gorman, Diana Quinn, Sabina Walker and others, along with pharmacist Irene Glinsky.

Years ago they recognized that Dartmouth North was underserved, particularly with access to health and wellness services.

“This was very grassroots, very community-driven, and the people that were leading it had been living or working in the community for a long time,” Leblanc said.

The group evolved into the Dartmouth North Community Health Planning Team. Members have met regularly since 2016 with the goal of increasing health services in the community.

The team expanded over the years to include health professionals, Between the Bridges facilitators, and Nova Scotia Health (NSH) employees. Leblanc recently wrote about the community health planning team in a column for the Dartmouth Echo community newspaper.

A member of the team since 2017, Leblanc said members gathered in September to celebrate news that their hard work had paid off.

“It’s incredible. I mean, there’s so many things that are so awesome about our community. But there’s lots of need. And so to have this piece, not only is it going to actually attach people to primary care and to more than primary care, like dietitians and that kind of thing,” Leblanc said. 

“But also, there’s a bit of a pride point. This is good for our community. Our community worked for this, and now it’s here. That’s really awesome.”

No huge buzz yet

With nothing tangible to show at this point, Leblanc said few people in the community are aware that the Dartmouth North Health Neighbourhood is about to become a reality.

“There hasn’t been a real official announcement. For the folks that are working on the committee, we’re actively expanding our group now to make sure that we have all the voices at the table when we go into the real planning stages,” Leblanc said. 

“But we haven’t done a huge release…I’ve done a little bit of social media on it and people are excited, but there hasn’t been this huge buzz yet.”

Expected to open next summer

In an interview Wednesday, Minister of Health and Wellness Michelle Thompson described the Dartmouth North collaborative family practice centre as an “optimistic” file.

“We know that primary care is the backbone of our health care system,” Thompson said. 

“And so looking across the province at opportunities for us to be able to work with communities, understanding their needs, Dartmouth was identified as an area that would be very important to invest in. And so we’re really happy to have that opportunity.”

Thompson described the health neighbourhood as a collaborative practice centre that will include a variety of health care providers. She said work is still underway to determine what those teams will look like. 

‘We know, of course, that there will be physicians and nurse practitioners,” Thompson said. “But other allied health care professionals may be included in the team, as well as some registered nurses.”

The urgent care centre is expected to provide same day or next day access and will operate on evenings and weekends. 

“So outside of regular office hours, which will be a really important concept. And it would be for more time sensitive and episodic care,” Thompson explained 

“When we look at a collaborative family practice centre, we think about longitudinal care over time. Urgent care allows people to access walk in, same day, next day type of care.”

She said planning also included discussions about other clinics that could work out of the new site. Thompson expects the practice to open sometime next summer.

“I know that’s kind of the full budget year, but the planning is really essential in order for it to be successful,” Thompson said. 

Minister doesn’t expect staffing challenges

Thompson said she doesn’t expect there will be significant challenges staffing the collaborative family practice centre. She anticipates providers already involved with health care in the community will want to jump onboard. But she said they also know collaborative environments appeal to many health care providers. 

“I’m very optimistic given the excitement, given the community involvement, given the practice environment. I actually feel that this will be, I don’t want to say easy to recruit to. I don’t want to be flippant in any way,” Thompson said. 

“But I do believe that it’s a preferred environment for folks to work in, and so I am really encouraged and optimistic about our capacity to staff this environment.”

Location under wraps

The Department of Health and Wellness isn’t ready to share details about where the Dartmouth North collaborative clinic will be located, as those details are still being finalized. 

However, it expects to share information about a location sometime in the new year. 

“People are energized by the work that’s happening. I think there are a lot of things that have happened in order to enable this work, and so I do feel really hopeful,” Thompson said. 

“And I hope communities feel hopeful as well that we are looking not only with data, but also with need and trying to to match those. So I have every reason to be really optimistic about this. I think that we are on a good path.”

Plans for similar centres

Thompson said it’s likely Nova Scotians will see models like the Dartmouth North Health Neighbourhood appearing in other underserved communities across the province. She said they’re looking at ways and places to create partnerships, and sometimes it’s just a matter of “leaning into teams” that already exist. 

“We want team environments wherever possible if we are in a diverse community,” Thompson said. “Representation is really essential. There are ways in which we can work with community, and so I think you’ll see them unfold.”

Thompson pointed to the province’s health equity strategy. Launched in July, she said it’s important Nova Scotians know that it’s a “living document” that guides the way they work in communities. 

“There are population specific things that will happen as a result. And then there is the broader equity and inclusion work that we’ll be doing,” Thompson said. 

“We look at the services that are delivered in a variety of different communities, and our first choice always is to work with those who are currently on the ground, in community, and are representative of the community’s needs.”

Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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