Gore Bay docs will continue to practice while efforts are made to recruit new physicians

Shutterstock

MPP says government needs to address recruitment of new doctors

GORE BAY – While two doctors at the Gore Bay Medical Centre have indicated they want to retire soon, they haven’t set a firm date for this to take place and are in support of helping to find someone to replace them before they depart. 

The Town of Gore Bay is requesting all Western Manitoulin municipalities and First Nations to send letters of support to Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha, Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario and Christine Elliott, Minister of Health requesting their support and access to assistance for physician recruitment. However, Mr. Mantha told the Recorder on Tuesday the calls for action to the province have fallen on deaf ears.

“I met up with the doctors and the town (recently) who emphasized how important this is and how it could become a dire situation soon,” said Mr. Mantha. “The government needs a plan to find, recruit and fund doctors quickly. I’ve highlighted all of this to the Minister of Health and how it is a challenge for Gore Bay and many other municipalities in Northern Ontario to recruit new doctors. However, my questions and concerns that I’ve raised have gone unanswered. There is no course of action, and I haven’t received any plans or information on how the province is going to address the shortages of doctors.”

“We both are turning 65 this year, having started in 1982 and have been here 38 years,” said Dr. Shelagh McRae of her time in Gore Bay alongside husband and fellow doctor Robert Hamilton. “We think it is time to give someone younger a chance and enjoy our time in retirement.” She stressed, “we haven’t set a firm date (for retirement). What would be ideal is to have someone in place to hand over our patient records to. There has been a recruiter hired but so far it is proving to be difficult to find replacements.”

Dr. Hamilton told the Recorder, “we are trying to be realistic; we are closer to the end of our term than the beginning. But in the meantime, we feel a real responsibility to work with the town to find someone to continue the services with Dr. (Chantelle) Wilson (at the medical centre). The big story here is the contribution she has made to the community and she will be continuing. The issue is the recruitment of doctors to a number of small towns that are in the same situation as we have here. There are only a certain number of young graduating doctors and there are a lot of rural practices with aging doctors, and those areas have had to think about succession and recruiting new doctors.”

“We are working with the town in recruiting a new doctor and have talked to MPP (Michael) Mantha about the need for more health care providers, or for instance more health care practitioners in areas that would make it easier on the doctors themselves in an area,” said Dr. Hamilton. “The focus needs to be on how to get more doctors for small community’s like ours. Our priority is making sure our patients are cared for.”

“The community has been very supportive over the years,” said Dr. Hamilton.

“We became more public with our plans to eventually retire when we realized we are turning 65 this year,” said Dr. McRae. “But our number one priority is caring for the community, our patients. And looking at what can be done to get new doctors, and how we can provide our support along with the town on this.”

In a letter to Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha dated December 17, 2019 Gore Bay Mayor Dan Osborne wrote, “I am writing to you asking for assistance in recruiting a physician. The Town of Gore Bay is approaching a critical point with regards to access to health care in Western Manitoulin.”

“By the spring of 2020, two doctors sharing a position at the Gore Bay Medical Centre will be retiring. The centre has not been successful to date with recruiting a physician. This means that we will be left with one doctor to care for our citizens. The remaining doctor has also indicated that she will not be able to continue on caring for her patients without a replacement doctor or at the least the assistance of a nurse practitioner,” continued Mayor Osborne. 

“According to the Rural Institute of Ontario, compared to other Northern districts Manitoulin has seen steady population growth over the past 20 years, while other regions have had a decline in population. Manitoulin has grown by 20 percent which makes the region unique and therefore it can be argued that there is a greater need for doctors in the region,” wrote Mayor Osborne.  

“There are approximately 2,000 patients listed on the centre’s roster, plus additional patients not listed who are seasonal residents. The shortage of doctors will greatly impact patients’ access to quality care to not only Gore Bay but to the entire Western Manitoulin region.

Incentives are needed immediately to successfully recruit a doctor to the Gore Bay Medical Centre. Although the Canadian Collaborative Task Force has been created under the College of Family Physicians of Canada and the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada and have created The Rural Road Map for Action, we are at a point where we will soon be in a crisis regarding access to health care once the doctors at the Medical Health Centre retire,” wrote Mayor Osborne.

Billings Township Council, at a meeting this past Monday, discussed the letter sent by Gore Bay council. “With two doctors at the Gore Bay Medical Centre retiring, the Town of Gore Bay is asking for a support letter to MPP Mike Mantha, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and the Minister of Health Christine Elliott, requesting their support and access to assistance for physician recruitment,” said Billings councillor Sharon Alkenbrack, who chaired the council meeting. Council passed a motion in support of the request from the Town of Gore Bay.

Stasia Carr, deputy clerk of Gore bay told the Recorder the letter has been sent out to all municipal councils and First Nations on Western Manitoulin. She pointed out individual citizens can also put pressure on government officials for help in recruiting a new doctor to the Gore Bay Medical Centre. 

Mr. Mantha said the only thing he has heard from the province in the past, “is that NOSM (Northern Ontario School of Medicine) has been developed and yes, some communities have benefitted from NOSM, but there are still gaps and a lot of shortages of doctors throughout Northern Ontario. This needs to be addressed by the government.”

“I will definitely continue to put pressure on the provincial minister to provide concrete funding, and a plan in place for recruitment of doctors and indicate that the Northern Ontario waiting lists for patients needing doctors continues to get longer,” added Mr. Mantha. “We have emergency rooms in hospitals that are bursting at the seams with patients waiting for doctors and beds in hospitals; and people being put in hallways at hospitals because there are no rooms for them. The province needs to invest more to recruit doctors and make more investments in hospitals.”