Health recruitment group faces deficit, seeks municipal contributions

MANITOULIN – A committee to recruit medical clinicians to work on Manitoulin Island for long- and short-term postings is appealing to all Island municipalities to contribute to the effort to help address a budget shortfall and keep costs manageable into the future.

“When looking at the budget we currently have, with the loss of First Nation contributions etc., there is going to be a shortfall by the end of March. We might have to be looking at trying to increase our existing partners’ fees for financing the recruitment operations,” said Al MacNevin, chair of Manitoulin Island Clinician Recruitment and Retention Committee (MICRRC) and mayor of the Northeast Town, speaking at a recent Manitoulin Municipal Association (MMA) meeting.

MICRRC has existed for nearly a decade. It recruits medical clinicians to serve in community health clinics, hospital emergency departments and risk obstetrics (which includes more intensive pregnancy, childbirth and post-partum care) on the Island, depending on each community’s needs, and works with a present total of 15 physicians.

In Gore Bay and Manitowaning it recruits for the health clinic, in Mindemoya it recruits for the clinic and the emergency department and in Little Current it recruits for all three categories.

In addition to recruiting physicians for permanent practices, the group co-ordinates recruitment for all health professionals at Manitoulin Health Centre (MHC), co-ordinates locum coverage in all four locations and organizes visits and tours for prospective locums, medical students and medical residents.

Several communities have joined and left the committee since its inception, which has made its finances vary from year to year. Last year, said Mayor MacNevin, Noojmowin Teg Health Centre and some First Nation community partners left the recruitment committee because they co-ordinate their own recruitment through the federal government.

This, plus the normal annual fluctuations, has led to this year’s projected funding shortfall of between three- and four-thousand dollars, said Mayor MacNevin.

Most recent contribution amounts totaled $3,000 from Assiginack; $6,000 from Central Manitoulin; $6,000 from the Northeast Town; $3,000 from Gore Bay and $1,200 from Gordon/Barrie Island. MHC contributed $7,000.

The other municipalities on the Island were not contributing to this year’s funding and Mayor MacNevin invited the recruiter to present to MMA so other Island townships could learn about how the committee works and its impacts, in the hopes they may contribute toward the effort.

“It’s crucial that we keep this committee going,” Mayor MacNevin said, citing the strain that would emerge if the committee falters. “Without that effort, what will happen if we lose some of our community clinics or family health team staffing, it’s going to mean that emergency units at the hospitals will be the only place our citizens in our communities will be able to get health care.”

Recruiter co-ordinator Alyssa Spooney described the work of the committee at the February 17 MMA meeting and formally requested the townships that aren’t presently contributing to consider adding a portion of their budget to the effort.

“Next year, the budget for the recruitment committee is $33,755,” she told the MMA members. “Based on that total, we’d probably be looking at a shortfall again of a few thousand (this year and again next year).”

The committee uses the hospitals’ fiscal year, which ends on March 31, so the first shortfall year is still in progress.

Ms. Spooney is an employee of North Shore Health Network, which is based in Blind River and also services hospitals in Thessalon and Richards Landing. The monies that municipalities contribute go toward the cost of her attending conferences and making pitches to clinicians that they should consider moving to Manitoulin Island.

Billings Mayor Ian Anderson asked about his municipality’s contribution toward a doctor recruitment incentive program in Gore Bay last year, and Gore Bay Mayor Dan Osborne clarified that those funds went toward incentives for after the town could find a candidate, rather than the recruitment process itself.

Mayor Anderson requested that Ms. Spooney give a brief presentation at a future Billings Township council meeting to educate its councillors, should they choose to help fund the committee. 

Tim Mackinlay also requested a similar presentation on behalf of the unincorporated townships of Dawson and Robinson on the West End of Manitoulin.

He added that the unincorporated townships, as well as Sheshegwaning, had contributed to the recruitment fund at one point in time.

Mayor MacNevin cited Gore Bay’s unique situation, that its two doctors have pledged to retire by the end of the year, as an imminent need that the committee was helping to address. 

Ms. Spooney attends roughly eight recruitment fairs per year on behalf of both the North Shore hospitals and Manitoulin health providers. During the pandemic, these have switched to a virtual format and have made the process more challenging for recruiters.

Often, recruiters only get one minute to plead their case for why a clinician should look to the North for their new home.

She said MICRRC does not operate with formal agreements about how much each municipality contributes, which has allowed townships to determine how much they can afford.

Presenting to MMA, she said, was a good opportunity because there are a handful of townships that have not been contributing and if each one gave a bit toward the program they could shore up the deficit.

“The response was positive and it was nice to see the different councillors step up and say they’d like to participate, so I anticipate us figuring this out real quick,” she said. This is the first time in her four years as the recruitment co-ordinator that she has presented to all Island municipalities. 

“If there wasn’t someone in this role, it would be a lot harder for (Island) physicians to get vacations and time off if they wanted it, through locum coverage,” she said. “Manitoulin is a beautiful place and it’s an easy sell when trying to get (clinicians) to come for a work vacation.”

Physicians have a variety of questions depending on their needs, said Ms. Spooney. Some of the more common inquiries include what services each site offers, to see if it fits with their career development goals and their existing specialties.

“It’s just taking the time to explain what we have (on Manitoulin) and learn what they want to practice, because before we get into the next steps like a visit and incentives, we have to make sure it’s the right fit for them,” she said.

If the group cannot convince other Island municipalities to join in on the efforts, each existing member will likely have to increase their contributions to fill in the deficit.

“We’re making steps in the right direction. At the end of the day, everybody wants the same goal and that’s health for the whole community,” Ms. Spooney said.