There’s one thing Dr. Pat Blakley always does before she travels to La Ronge.
“I go to Coles and buy books,” said the pediatrician who specializes in developmental pediatrics. This branch of medicine treats children who are at risk of, or have been diagnosed with, physical and intellectual disabilities ranging from mild developmental delays in walking to cerebral palsy or Down syndrome.
Dr. Blakley is part of an interdisciplinary team that includes a physical therapist, occupational therapist and speech language pathologist who travel to La Ronge throughout the year to provide care to patients in their home community. This year, they hope to add a psychologist to their team.
“Having all of these clinicians on the team really provides a more holistic view of the child,” said Dr. Blakley. “I like to think it’s a one-stop-shop for the families.”
Once a month for eight months of the year, Dr. Blakley travels to La Ronge to offer clinics to patients and their families who live in La Ronge and surrounding area, including Pelican Narrows and Deschambault Lake. For three of the eight visits, she is accompanied by her interdisciplinary team.
“I’ve seen how challenging it can be for families to come to Saskatoon,” said Dr. Blakley. “La Ronge is 4.5 hours away and Pelican Narrows is six hours away. Coming that distance with a child who may have significant needs and equipment can be difficult. Bringing our services to La Ronge is helping families access our services. It’s more patient and family centred.”
Physical therapist Deb Gunther-Hansen agrees.
“If we can ease the stress and effort required for long-distance travel for families and their children, we can begin to build trust,” said Gunther-Hansen. “Being in the community allows our assessment team to see a rested child and to get a clearer picture of the child’s needs. It also increases family engagement and carry through of programing recommendations.”
“The clinic is a wonderful opportunity to see children with their families and the local team, and to help each child reach their full developmental potential,” added speech-language pathologist Leanne Sargent.
From left to right: Deb Gunther-Hansen, Rikia Trischuk, Leanne Sargent, Giselle and Harper Venne, and Dr. Pat Blakley.
Giselle Venne, whose one-year-old daughter Harper is a patient at the clinic, said she and her family are pleased with the easily accessible service and the excellent care Harper receives.
“Harper receives a lot of care to improve her motor skills development and she has come a long way,” said Venne. “As a parent, I’m very happy there’s a clinic [available] that’s helping to improve her care. What me and my family also like about the clinic is that we don’t have to travel – it’s only five to seven minutes from our home in La Ronge.”
The insight that comes from working directly in a patient’s home community is the reason why Dr. Blakley brings books with her to every clinic.
“We may say to a family, ‘It’s really good to read to your child,’ but what if they don’t have any books? What if they’re afraid to tell you that their literacy level is such that reading books is probably not going to happen?” said Dr. Blakley. “So, I take picture books and it allows the families to read to their children. It’s simple, little things that make a big difference.”
In addition to providing clinics to families in their home communities, Dr. Blakley and her team spend their final day in La Ronge meeting with their partners in the Children North Early Childhood Intervention Program (ECIP), community members and Dr. Debra Tonn, family physician at the La Ronge Medical Clinic.
“Being able to connect with both families and other professionals in the community is invaluable as it helps us to formulate collaborative and holistic recommendations, while honouring the strengths and realities of the remote nature of the communities where families live,” said occupational therapist Rikia Trischuk. “The opportunity to travel to La Ronge is a great example of continuity of care and has prevented many families from falling through the cracks as a result of not being able to travel to access services in Saskatoon.”
The clinic has proven so successful its attendance rate is currently over 98 per cent.
In addition to La Ronge, communities served by the La Ronge Outreach Clinic include: Air Ronge, Brabant, Deschambault Lake, Grandmother’s Bay, Hall Lake, Lac La Ronge Indian Band, Pelican Narrows, Sikatchu, Southend, Stanley Mission, Sucker River, Wollaston Lake.