Challenges to health care on Manitoulin need to be addressed

There has been much made of the crisis in health care taking place across the province thanks to the pandemic and ongoing shortcomings in how the province deals with health professionals. We here on Manitoulin have been blessed with dedicated doctors, but that dedication and sense of obligation to the community is masking a serious crisis of our own.

The contracts for doctors signed under the Rural and Northern Physician Group Agreement (RNPGA) force doctors in family health teams to maintain the local hospital emergency departments at the expense of their own practices. Even more troubling, those obligations mean heavy amounts of overtime at the expense of family, vacations and other time off. This results in an unsustainable model.

Outpatient services are suffering as are those continuing education and upgrading opportunities and obligations stipulated in those same RNPGA contracts.

Further, physicians are being forced to work past when they wished to retire, again out of a sense of obligation to their communities.

These challenges are hindering the recruitment of new doctors to the Island. Small wonder potential recruits take one look at the requirements of the positions and politely decide to look elsewhere. The Island has lost two recent enthusiastic recruits who have resigned after a short stint here on Manitoulin due to unacceptable workloads.

Something is going to give unless changes are made. Only so much for so long can be accomplished by workarounds in the emergency departments of our two hospital sites. Cancelling holidays and weekends off, replacing clinic days with emergency shifts and cancelling continuing medical education courses in order to respond to challenges such as locum cancellations and, in the days of pandemic particularly, personal illness each add another straw to an already strained back. This situation is simply untenable.

Currently, locums are seeing almost double the number of patients in a 10-hour shift than they are in other locations—providing a significant disincentive to coming to work on Manitoulin.

As a region with an aging population, Manitoulin is highly dependent on our outstanding doctors and other health professionals.

Fine words and good intentions may make for great media clips and stumping ground talking points, but real change needs to take place if the system is to be maintained. When the province renegotiates the RNPGA this fall, they must address these issues in a constructive and real manner before the camel’s back breaks.

Our health depends upon it.