Gore Bay’s medical services model hinders new physician recruitment

Shutterstock.

GORE BAY—Until the provincial government contract model for doctors in rural and Northern areas like Gore Bay is similar to the contract that is provided to family health teams (FHTs), it will continue to be an uphill battle for clinics like the Gore Bay Medical Centre to be able to recruit new doctors. As has been reported previously, Dr. Bob Hamilton and Dr. Shelagh McRae indicated a few years ago that they are planning to retire soon. This would leave Dr. Chantelle Wilson as the lone doctor at the Gore Bay Medical Centre and because of this, the town has joined other communities and health agencies on Manitoulin in obtaining the services of a recruiter.

“The contract that the province has in place for doctors like ours at our medical centre, compared to family health teams, is not as appealing in recruiting doctors,” said Gore Bay Mayor Dan Osborne after a meeting last week. “We have talked to our MPP Michael Mantha about bringing our concerns forward to the province, and he has. Really, what can we do? We can’t do anything until the government changes its mind and changes the current model.”

“With the contract for family health teams, money is provided by the province for hiring additional health personal such as nurse practitioners, while for our doctors and the contract they have with the province, they have to basically pay these types of costs for additional personnel,” said Mayor Osborne. “I don’t understand why the government hasn’t made revisions to the contract model guidelines.”

Alyssa Spooney, a recruitment coordinator for the North Shore and Manitoulin, met with members of the Gore Bay general government committee at a meeting last week. She explained the current contract model (for rural and Northern physicians group) limits access to health compared to contracts for FHTs in recruiting new doctors. “And it is definitely not only for Gore Bay, a lot of areas haven’t been able to recruit new doctors under the current contract model, which needs to be revised (by the province).”

“For the last four years, I have been recruiting for a new doctor(s) for Gore Bay. It has been a challenge. It’s hard for rural, remote communities. I find the current (provincial doctor contract) very challenging to recruit new doctors. It doesn’t allow for a lot of health professionals to work with them (under the current provincial contract) unless they are part of a family health team,” Ms. Spooney told the meeting.

Ms. Spooney explained, “for FHTs, the province provides for access to nurse practitioners and registered nurses, for example. And we have seen the same concerns (that Gore Bay has)  across the North where it has been estimated we are short 300 doctors. The current contract model is outdated. They (province) really needs to update the current contract model.”

“If we had a FHT in Gore Bay, teamed up with the FHT in Mindemoya, would this provide for more chance of being successful in trying to recruit doctors?” committee member Ron Lane asked.

Ms. Spooney noted that the Manitoulin Central FHT had submitted a proposal to the province to include Gore Bay in the FHT. “A FHT is more attractive and something we will continue to push for. With a FHT, they have resources to personnel right at their fingertips.”

“A lot of community clinics don’t have things like x-ray machines (that the Gore Bay Medical Centre has) that makes it more attractive to new doctors. It’s the current contract model (that is the problem),” reiterated Ms. Spooney.

“If we could convince the ministry to allow Gore Bay to be part of the Central Manitoulin FHT, do you think this would help in recruiting a new doctor?” asked Mr. Lane.

“I do,” said Ms. Spooney.

“I know plans are being made to have (renovation) work done on the medical centre (building). It’s just a matter of finding the right physician to recruit here,” said Ms. Spooney. She pointed out in trying to recruit a doctor for the medical centre, “one of the points in the feedback I receive from potential recruits is that they do not want to provide on-call service in the evenings. The current on-call service is a hard sell to a new doctor. They have indicated, for example, they would want to take their kids to play soccer in the evening in Little Current, rather than having to provide on-call service.” She said locums who fill in for periods of time at an Island hospital or medical centre say they enjoy working with First Nations on the West End of the Island and providing bi-weekly site visits to the Manitoulin Lodge Nursing Home.

“They enjoy all of this work,” Ms. Spooney told the meeting. “With the actual current practice, everything is wonderful, and not the issue. But one thing they are insistent on is not having to provide on-call service. This was brought up to the physician recruitment group and the limitations it brings with it. They (doctors being recruited) want to work during the day and enjoy family and doing other things in the evening. We have been lucky in Gore Bay the locums have had nothing negative to say except for having to provide on call service.”

“I foresee this as an emergency situation,” said committee member and town councillor Jack Clark. “At some point, Dr. Bob and Dr. Shelagh are going to actually retire. This will leave us with one physician who will eventually burn out, retire, or move away.” If there is no physician on hand, would a position be filled with full-time locums, he questioned.

Ms. Spooney said none of this can take place until vacancy numbers are at zero. She explained the North Shore had a four doctor complement but is now down to zero and locums are being used to provide services to area patients. I can’t say there has been much support from the ministry on this.”

“It’s a struggle and a hard situation,” said Ms. Spooney.

Mr. Clark posed a question, “as to what our (doctor recruitment) target is, is it newly graduated doctors from NOSM (Northern Ontario School of Medicine), or someone who already has 30 years experience?’

“I could see a doctor who is close to the end of their career thinking this (Gore Bay) would be an attractive situation to be part of,” said Ms. Spooney. “But I can also see someone who is right out of residency feeling that this would be an attractive situation for them right now.” 

“I understand Gore Bay and surrounding municipalities would offer incentives for a doctor to come here. What is the best thing we can do to recruit a doctor, besides not having them to work on-call after hours?” asked Mayor Osborne.

“Housing is big,” stated Ms. Spooney. “Providing housing until a doctor is comfortable in an area and wants to purchase a home is important. Providing relocation accommodation help would benefit. And sometimes just being open to what a physician wants is important. At the end of the day, money is not everything for recruiting a doctor. They want to live in a place they feel would be good for them and where they can grow a family. The number one thing is accommodations and housing.”