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Additional budget ask to help people get a doctor

On the heels of success gaining four new doctors to start here throughout 2024, the County Docs Recruitment program is asking the municipality for a renewal of $250,000 toward its third year of operations, and a one-time pilot project ask of $100,000 to help physicians take up to 1,000 people off the waiting list for doctors.

The ask of $250,000 is already included in budget discussions and the additional $100,000 will move to next week’s 2024 budget considerations.

The new proposal would offer four lots of $25,000 to physicians willing to take on 250 patients from the Health Care Connect list.

“Our relatively young Family Physician and Recruitment and Retention Program has proven that it is having a positive impact during this crisis,” said Dr. Anne Nancekievill in a quote from the report to council. “If we are going to maintain this momentum, ongoing funding is essential.”

The Ministry of Health allows the County to have 23 physicians and there are currently seven vacancies. There are four more departures confirmed for next year, three of which are retirements.

Three of the new recruits are expected to fill some of the vacancies, said Adam Hambly, Physician Recruiter with The County Docs, to councillors at Committee of the Whole Wednesday. He added there are also 11 high interest leads being followed.

He reminded recruitment challenges here (and across the province and country) began during the COVID-19 pandemic where there was burnout and numerous departures.

For its first year, council approved a $100,000 physician incentive, and $50,000 toward developing a recruitment program. An additional $100,000 was later approved to retain a full-time recruiter.

The program has also created support for retaining current physicians by building locum pools (a physician who assumes another physician’s practice duties on a temporary basis). The program also launched a Doctor Accommodation Network (DAN) to support housing for locums and new physicians.

The County Docs stated that in 2023, the locum pool grew by 77 per cent, and specifically that family medicine residents are widely being told to locum for awhile, and not to commit to a practice.

Councillors Bill Roberts and Roy Pennell were concerned to learn a specific motion of support had included the need to seek Nurse Practitioners, however, the County Docs team said that is beyond their scope, and the focus remains on seeking physicians. Staff was directed to look into where and when that motion occurred.

Joining Hambly in the deputation were Dr. James Burrows and Barinder Gill, the new Prince Edward Family Health Team Executive Director.

While the County Docs focus is on recruitment and has no control over Health Care Connect wait times, it proposes an idea to get patients off the wait list.

The proposal is for four $25,000 premiums for any new or existing physician(s) willing to take on 250 patients from the wait list.

This would be separate from the five year return of service incentive and could be accessed independently, or concurrently.

“The Health Care Connect waitlist for a family doctor has increased to 2,000, up from 1,700 in January 2023. We know this is a gross under-representation of residents without a family doctor,” he said.

Hambly explains the shortage of doctors is the primary reason for the slow movement of the Health Care Connect (HCC) list, but there’s also a process barrier that adds to the delay.

“Rostering new patients from Health Care Connect is labour intensive and time consuming, which is why it’s typically done gradually, as a practice organically shrinks and grows,” he explained. “If we were to try to expedite this process and onboard large numbers of new patients at one time, it would require a significant increase in administrative and clinical support – at a cost not manageable by the physician.”

He reminded doctors operate as independent businesses and must pay for administrative work.

New services for patients without a doctor (on now and in planning) include cancer screenings, hospital discharge follow-up, holiday clinics and a newborn program – are filling some gaps. The Prince Edward County Family Health Team is also seeking government funding for proposals for clinics and resources.

Filed Under: Local News

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