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County welcomes new doctors, salutes retirees

Before peers, municipal staff, councillors, employees and members of the Prince Edward Family Health Team, doctors Elizabeth Christie and Don Koval (front row ends) honoured new and retiring physicians at Thursday’s event hosted by the County and the Prince Edward Family Health Team. They include (front row centre) doctors Lois Russell and Cliff Rice. New physicians within the past two years (second row) include doctors Negine Nahiddi, Sarah LeBlanc, Laura Arul and Dane Chhatwal (Absent from the photo are doctors Sara Arul and Tarik Eldjama)

While many Prince Edward County residents are still without a family physician – including the acting mayor – the municipality and Prince Edward Family Health Team (PEFHT) officially welcomed six of most recently recruited doctors at a gathering Thursday evening and spoke of continued efforts to recruit.

Doctors Sara Arul, Laura Arul, Sarah LeBlanc, Negine Nahiddi, Dane Chhatwal and Tarik Eldjama all joined the the team within the last two years and are now practicing medicine in Prince Edward County. The evening also honoured three recently retired doctors.

“We are thrilled that these talented doctors have chosen to work and live in our community,” said Dianne O’Brien, Acting Mayor, welcoming the doctors to the County. The physican recruitment and retention program established earlier this year in partnership with the family health team “is a priority of the County to ensure we maintain and improve a strong health care system and to address the growing number of local residents without a doctor. That would be me. I’m one of them.”

She added she was pleased to see the efforts in the partnership are already having a positive impact.

The County and PEFHT established a physician recruitment working group in 2017 and formalized the program earlier this year. Council committed $20,000 per year toward the physician recruitment effort.

“Physician recruitment and retention is a natural extension of our efforts to attract new residents and business to the County,” said Neil Carbone, Director of Community Development and Strategic Initiatives. “This partnership with the PEFHT has helped reinforce that The County is already an attractive location for family physicians and that we can play an important role in helping new physicians and their families make the connections necessary to build a home and life in the County.”

The process includes marketing initiatives such as attending career fairs at Queen’s University and other institutions as well as the creation of a webpage on the County’s website. As inquiries are received by the PEFHT, doctors are invited to visit the County for a tour of the medical facilities, meet with other doctors and to speak with the Community Development Department to hear benefits of working and living in the County.

“I came to the County to practice medicine, but also to escape the urban grind,” said Dr. Dane Chhatwal, one of the newest physicians. “I am enjoying the outdoor activities in my spare time, especially water and snow sports. My family is loving it here.”

Dr. Don Koval knows precisely what Chhatwal is experiencing. He felt the same way when he came to the County 31 years ago – even though it was a much different community then.

“These are exciting times,” he told the doctors, health care professionals, spouses, politicians and others attending the event held at Parson’s Brewery. “Picton recruited a whole bunch of us 30-35 years ago, then hardly anybody, and now we’re all getting old,” he joked. “When I came to the County there was not much here but the beach – no notable restaurants, no theatre scene, no breweries or wineries – and yet it was a fantastic place to practice. And I think that while all these new physicians will enjoy the amenities of the County, they really are looking for a type of practice – in a small, rural hospital with in-patient care, family practice, palliative, nursing home and home visits because that is the essence of family practice – plus we’re getting a brand new hospital.”

Debbie Korzeniowski, the Prince Edward Family Health Team’s executive director, said the physician recruitment program is important to find and retain doctors who will likely stay and form relationships of the highest order with patients.

“It’s a relationship of life and death. Doctors are working with us to support decisions from possibly conceiving and bringing forth new life, to shepherding growth in the phases of life, fostering wellness to feel alive and vital, but also detecting threats to a person’s life; discussions about illness, and possibly about figuring out end-of-life decisions, and ultimately through death.”

The relationships she said, are “of the highest order, a therapeutic alliance underpinned by confidence, by trust, and in smaller communities, I see so many chances to build that relationship. Often there isn’t a lot of movement once you have your family physician established and the individual becomes special to you.”

Alas, for some, those relationships have lessened due to the recent retirement of three of the County’s beloved physicians – doctors Cliff Rice, Lois Russell and Kim Haigh.

Dr. Elizabeth Christie thanked the three physicians for their many years of service and dedication to their patients and their community.

“These doctors have been real leaders in this medical community and set a fantastic example for your new docs, and those to come, of how to do it; how to be so supportive of your colleagues, how to take up roles and step back from roles, and have a lot of fun,” she said. “They have all geen great leaders in our community and great supporters of all the docs in the family health team.”

She noted Dr. Rice described himself as an involuntary urbanite who escaped to the County and moved here permanently in 1982.

“Cliff has been involved in the cutting edge of the leadership of this medical community,” said Christie. “When there was first some talk in the ether of forming a family health team, it was Cliff, with doctors Kolabinski, Russell, Scrivens, French and others, who got together to form the first family health network in this community and they were among the original health networks.

“A few years later when there was talk about family health teams, Cliff and Dr. Greg Higgins were all over the idea… This is a remarkable initiative and Prince Edward County remains considered within the province of Ontario, in the world of health teams, as one of the pinnacles, one of the examples, and a really great and functional family health team which was one of the first created.”

She also praised his work over the years teaching residents and noted he was involved in initially enticing Queen’s University to include the County as part of its residents’ program.

Rice described his career as a fun 37-years and hopes to continue contributing some shifts and providing ongoing support and membership in retirement.

Kim Haigh was unable to attend the event, but Christie noted her contributions as a leader in the emergency department and on the board of the family health team. Haigh also plans to continue to do some work in the emergency department.

Lois Russell, said Christie, “is also a significant leader in this community – on the board of directors of the family health team and a very important player in its creation in an enormous amount of work 11 years ago.

“Lois is an avid educator of residents and has been the lead physician in the memory clinic and a champion of mental health programs for years.”

Meanwhile, the County and Prince Edward Family Health Team and partners are continuing efforts on the recruitment program.

“We are working together to make sure our health team remains viable and and we will have physicians coming to Prince Edward County,” said Carbone. “It came together quickly because of the efforts of many people… The County is very attactive place for physicians to come to and one of the reasons is that our Family Health Team is very strong, and well respected and we have a good reputation for innovative programs.”

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