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Amid failing provincial system, more than half of County residents will have no doctor without immediate help from municipality

UPDATE FEB. 4: Though only final with approval of the operating budget levy, council agreed Friday morning that $150,000 should be put in the 2022 operating budget to support physician recruitment ($120,000 plus $30,000 already in reserve). Council also directs the CAO to enter into an agreement with the PEC Family Health Team to disperse the funds and that the team provide updates on recruitment efforts.

In the last year of its term, council recommended future councils continue the commitment.

“We’ve identified housing as our number one priority,” noted Mayor Ferguson. “We also have some of the responsibility to ensure the health care of our residents,” and will continue advocacy work with the provincial government.


Dr. Elizabeth Christie

FEB. 3: More than half of Prince Edward County residents could be without a family doctor by 2024 unless the municipality takes action on funding doctor recruitment while it awaits the long-term solution from the Ontario government to bring the County back into the fold for rural doctor incentive funding.

In a follow-up report from December by Dr. Anne Nancekievill, Dr. Elizabeth Christie presented council with stark realities last night during opening discussions on the municipality’s operating budget – expected to be finalized Friday.

With five doctors leaving this year, and another five, or more, retiring over 2023-2026, Christie is calling for urgent efforts.

The ask is for $150,000 in this budget to seek five doctors immediately, proving an incentive of $20,000 per year over five years. The remaining $50,000 would go toward professional recruiting and marketing, possibly joining already successful efforts by the Docs on the Bay program already under way in Quinte West and Brighton. Further funding over the next eight to 10 years would also be required.

Currently, the County is not competitive in its financial incentives to attract doctors – but the charm of living here that worked in the past, is now heavily outweighed by excessive cost of housing and lack of availability. Neighbouring municipalities offer $100,000 or more in incentives to attract doctors for a five to six year commitment. The County offers $10,000 for relocation expenses.

Currently, Dr. Christie stated, about a quarter of County residents are without a general practitioner (GP).

“We started the year with 800 unattached patients, now we have 1,750 unattached patients. By early July we’ll have almost 4,000 and by the end of October, 5,500-plus.” This, she added, is in stark contrast to the provincial average of seven percent of the population without a family doctor.

Christie explained the Ontario Government Northern and Rural Recruitment and Retention Initiative program pays $80,000 to $117,600 over only four years and Prince Edward County used to qualify for this funding but is no longer considered ‘rural enough’. Those figures, she noted, should change with the current and coming percentages of residents without doctors, but she fears that government process will take years to put into action.

“In an ideal world – like we had five to 10 years ago – family doctors came to PEC without financial incentives because we had a great group of doctors, a great Family Health Team, a wonderful, affordable place to live, there were enough family doctors wanting a rural-ish place to work, and there were not many financial incentives being offered in this region

“We still have the first two of that list, but for physicians graduating with $250,000 in debt, who actually want to practice Family Medicine in a small town, we simply cannot attract them without a financial incentive… and rural family medicine needs to be made a more attractive option again, and support people from rural areas to pursue the profession – in all of Ontario.”

“The system,” notes Christie, is failing Prince Edward County, so Prince Edward County needs to help itself.

“We have never had trouble recruiting physicians, in the past, but here we are. It will be a snowball: no family doctor for one quarter of the population equals no family doctor for anyone moving into the thousands of new homes; many of those people will choose not to move here and life for the remaining doctors is much more stressful and less rewarding. There will be more departures and it will be harder to recruit.” She also noted a lack of doctors directly impacts the County’s new hospital and especially its emergency department.

Practicing rural medicine, she notes, is often more demanding of time and effort than serving in larger areas in Prince Edward County where 33 per cent of residents are a senior population. Christie stated trends also indicate fewer new graduates are choosing family medicine – at 31 per cent where it was 38 per cent in 2014. Government restrictions on the number of doctors and nurse practitioners allowed also compounds problems, she stated.

“The human health resource supply is extraordinarily constrained. The ‘supply’ of all professions is concerning and is exacerbated in rural communities where scope of work is broader than in urban settings.”

The Prince Edward Family Health Team is currently comprised of 23 (now 21) family physicians and office team members; 36 allied health care providers and admin for collectively, about 85 healthcare professionals supporting 25,000 residents.

Mayor Steve Ferguson and council during Thursday morning’s budget considerations, decided to consider the ask in more detail Friday where they can get into specifics on how it will affect the operating budget.

Considerations are also being made to wording on how to “strongly recommend” the incoming council continue the funding and how advocacy measures can be strengthened with the provincial government. In considering the funding, council may also examine whether to fund the $150,000 including the $30,000 currently in reserve, or adding to it, for a $180,000 contribution.

“The issue is a critical matter,” said Mayor Ferguson, who noted talks have been ongoing with Bay of Quinte MP Todd Smith and Minister of Health Christine Elliott on “the need for more rural physicians and pressure those orphaned patients will place on hour hospital and physicians.”

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  1. Hedy Campbell says:

    Yes, developers could pay towards doctor recruitment, but it could take some time to get doctors here. More importantly, there are hundreds of County people on waiting lists for a doctor and have been for several years, so those people should have priority before any newcomers in brand new developments.
    The housing issues and doctor issues have been in the making for many years and should have been addressed long ago. Now both are in crisis category. Our aged population have folks who dont have another 5 or 10 years to wait for a doctor.
    And the housing in development plans are not affordable enough to help the housing problem; they will be bought by city seniors.

  2. Julia says:

    Perhaps we could also look at nurse practioner led clinics. Other service models. Agree that this needs to be considered with development. Many new comers have no primary care access.

  3. Dennis Fox says:

    I understand the need for new ideas, but in this process do not allow those who are responsible for this mess to get away with it. The bottom line is that municipalities have never been responsible for healthcare – nor should we allow the province nor the feds to deflect this onto the local level.

    We are all the same taxpayers and pay a lot to have these services covered – so where does that money go to? Over the past 30 years, healthcare and educational funding have often been cut in order for the government(s) to pay down their debt – it is called financial mismanagement. What has been done with all that added income(billions) from lotteries and casinos – flushed away and the public benefits so little from any of it.

    Instead of calling the mayor, call our MPP Todd Smith and our MP Ryan Williams – this is their responsibility and they should start earning their keep.

  4. Barbara Wyatt says:

    First, there should be absolutely no more subdivision approval until there are doctors to service the incomers, and second, where construction approval is already in progress add a physician incentive charge graduated to number of homes to be built. $100,000 per doctor would be peanuts for the developers.

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