Up to 700 people in West Nipissing are scrambling to find a doctor. The loss of Dr. Martin Desjardins, who is closing his practice as of March 11, has once again brought into sharp focus the need to attract more doctors to the area. There is a renewed interest in the Medical Practitioner Recruitment & Retention Committee and the role the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) in providing likely recruits to fill the needs of northern communities such as West Nipissing. The prognosis is that there may be 2 more retirements within the next 5 years, and two physicians who have been serving post-retirement are no longer available as locums; Dr. Gordon Ferguson returned to England in late 2021, and Dr. Jean Anawati did not renew his license for 2022. The Recruitment & Retention committee has not met since the beginning of the pandemic, as dealing with COVID has taken priority. A meeting has been called recently, hopefully for the end of January, to discuss the urgency for primary care physicians.
The municipality has been providing $25K annually towards Recruitment & Retention, and it is expected that a similar line item will be part of this year’s budget. Coun. Dan Roveda, past president of the board of the West Nipissing Community Health Centre (WNCHC), expressed deep concern that while recruitment is very important, the stress levels doctors are undergoing also undermines retention. “These doctors have been taking on extra patients, and they are getting tired! Our Community Safety & Wellness Plan needs to include [medical practitioners]… As a councillor I see this as an urgent need in the community and also as an economic development issue. What’s the first thing a person does when they move to a community? Try to find a doctor… Would it not make sense to make sure physicians are not overworked?”
As for the $25K from the municipal budget, Roveda said, “The emphasis right now is doctors. I brought it up at the budget last year and the mayor had a list of doctors recruited, but on that list, none were primary care. That’s where the need is right now – primary care – and that’s the issue… I’m going to ask that the committee become more of a community committee, not solely focused on the needs of the hospital.” Roveda pointed out that a lack of primary care physicians also puts more pressure on the local hospital when people take their relatively minor ailments to the Emergency because they don’t have a doctor. He also indicated that the $25K might need to be increased. “It’s not a lot of money. Recruitment is one thing, but what about retention? Are we listening to our medical community? …You have to talk to them, listen and understand what they need, why they don’t stay. And if they are being overworked, over-driven, that they don’t feel comfortable, we should know that. It’s not just money that attracts people… If you’re going to be a vibrant community you have to have things in place. We’ve got good schools, we have a nice hospital, a good hospital… One of the deciding factors for a community is the health care. The Community Heath Centre is top notch; people who go there have nothing but nice things to say about their experience. The Family Health Team has the same principle – a holistic approach, wrap around services.”
Dr. Andrée Morrison, who has her practice with the Family Health Team, noted that the stress levels have increased substantially since the pandemic. She also had some observations about recruitment and retention, echoing the call for more collaboration between players. “Approaching recruitment more as a collaborative effort amongst the various sectors of the community would definitely be an advantage. Obviously, the hospital would be one, but you also have the Community Health Centre, the town, the Au Château, the Family Health Team and all the different partners… When you are trying to attract a physician, you want to do it in a broad sense, you want to make it so that it’s family friendly, so that there are opportunities for the spouse to get employment, schooling for the children, recreation… Life and balance is very important to keep the stress levels down – collaborative effort would be more efficient and better for long term recruitment. And even for short term – sometimes we get a lot of benefit from physicians who don’t stay for a long time because we get benefit from any service we can get, but we’re more likely to get a long term stay if there are things attractive in the community for their spouse and families. That’s where you can get input from the town, and some of the major businesses.”