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County can no longer rely on its charm to attract urgently needed doctors

Prince Edward Family Health Team Dr. Anne Nanckievill getting her COVID-19 vaccination.

With five doctors leaving next year, and another five, or more, retiring over 2023-2026, the Prince Edward County Doctor Recruitment Task Team is calling for urgent efforts with cash incentives.

Some 5,500 patients are expected to be affected by physician departures next year. Right now, there are 844 Prince Edward County residents on a wait list, and that data is believed to be under reported. There are 8,945 people on the Hastings Prince Edward family physician waitlist.

Dr. Anne Nancekievill is scheduled to address council Wednesday before 2022 budget sessions begin, to stress putting aside $150,000 to $200,000 annual budget requests for at least the next five years.

In her deputation, she also points to the merit of joining the Docs by the Bay regional program to create regional strength, versus competition.

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.

“Incentives are not everything,” states Dr. Nancekievill, but they are a factor, along with preferences to join a Family Health Organization, proximity to family and employment opportunities for the spouse and additional work outside of the practice.

“The group you have really sounds quite wonderful. I heard good things even from the Health Force Ontario advisors. I was quite torn, but couldn’t get the numbers to add up and ultimately have to do what’s best for my family,” stated a family physician in the fall, who chose a job outside of the County. “Their incentive gave us the down payment to buy a home.”

Nancekievill explains the Docs by the Bay program is a successful Quinte West and Brighton regional partnership with a full-time professional recruiter, a data base of prospects and significant advertising and career fairs, along with concierge to medical residents and visiting or new physicians and spouses and succession planning.

Recruitment efforts combined with appeal of the County and the Prince Edward Family Health Team have led to 12 physicians recruited since 2018. The County is often the top choice for Queen’s University medical residents.

“As our physician numbers decrease here, it seems very likely that those physicians remaining will have to take on more work – be it more ER shifts, or busier ER shifts, extra clinics or walk-ins to provide care for displaced patients,” her deputation notes. “Considering the push to achieve work life balance that is being taught in current medical curricular, I worry that potential recruits will see this as a frustration/challenge that they can avoid by going elsewhere.”

She added that if dwindling physician numbers necessitate increased work and effort from the rest, if could cause doctors planning to retire this year or in the near future to do so sooner.”

She shares a physician impact statement:

“As a relatively new grad myself with a nauseating debt load, and someone who has been house hunting in earnest for over 12 months now, I can say this is no easy housing market to get into. Renting is in many cases more expensive than a mortgage with low availability. The lack of affordable short and medium term housing is a barrier to physicians who want to come Locum in the area and try the County out before committing to taking over a practice.”

The Prince Edward Family Health Team was formed in 2006 and consists of 23 family doctors, their office staff, plus allied health care providers such as nurse practitioners, mental health counsellors and others. Offices are located in Picton and Wellington.

The doctors are charged with caring for 23,000 people annually, and more when visitors come through the emergency department.

Nancekievill also shared some statements from patients describing the impact.

“My husband, who is a cancer survivor, and I moved to Wellington two and a half years ago and have been without a doctor that entire time. I have called the Ontario help line, been to walk-in clinics and been to emergency a half a dozen times. In the absense of a true personal physician, all I get is treatment of symptoms, not the underlying issue.”

Another stated they moved here unaware of the doctor shortage.

“We had a doctor two-plus hours from here but he retired. We have been unable to get a local doctor and have had to use walk-in clinic in Belleville for our prescriptions.”

Another retiree who moved to the County 10 years ago, states they “are now 70 and it is very hard to travel to my family doctor in Scarborough.”

Council is meeting Dec. 8-10 for capital budget deliberations. Operating budget talks are set for February.

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  1. Dennis Fox says:

    I know a young woman here in The County who went to university on a scholarship – she had a very high percentage (over 90%) when she graduated and was refused entry into med school!! Through her own initiative and hard work, by taking extra courses, she was able to finally attend med school at McMaster. The point I am trying to make is that young people are not getting any breaks in our system – and it is very costly. After graduating, this young lady now owes $40K – a hell of a way to start your working life.

    Recently – Ontario’s Auditor General was critical of our university system – our government now depends on “foreign students” to pay for the system by charging them higher tuition fees – but it creates an inflationary environment for all and it means that Canadian students often cannot find a place because the visa student make more money for the system – thus filling up our schools. I don’t think this is what any mother or father worked a life time for and paid taxes for to support the system for their kids – only it is no longer there for them. This is simply wrong! If you wonder why we are short of doctors, this is one good and all to real of a reason.

  2. Sue3 says:

    Just out of curiosity, I googled the requirements for admission to med schools in Ontario, as well as the percentage of applicants that were accepted and their chances of being accepted. The numbers were a bit of an eye-opener.
    Could these programs not be expanded?
    Could further financial assistance not be available to those who require it?
    Perhaps we need to put more emphasis on changes to the education system. Obviously it won’t help with the immediate problem, but would for the future.

  3. Michelle says:

    Well as stated, I believe it could very well be an issue for the taxpayer and where their hard earned $$ are going.

  4. Bruce Nicholson says:

    Monetary incentives to bring doctors to communities is not new in any way. Whatever the funds end up going towards is not the issue. Prince Edward County healthcare needs doctors.It is not a problem that will “fix itself”.

  5. Michelle says:

    I think the example used of a young doctor choosing a neighbouring municipality because he used the incentive for a downpayment on a new home was a poor one to use. I think the taxpayer would be more sympathetic to incentives being used to pay down student debt rather than purchasing a home. Many young folks providing a needed service in this community would love the opportunity of taxpayers providing them a downpayment.

  6. angela says:

    No operating room or maternity ward in our present hospital and neither one planned for the new one. We have an ER and a few beds to accommodate patients for short stays. Perhaps the doctors prefer larger centres where there are bigger hospitals with more opportunities.

  7. MI says:

    A new hospital and no doctors. Interesting. I hope our provincial and municipal leaders have a viable plan that we can afford.

  8. Bruce Nicholson says:

    Hopefully, Council agrees that the County needs greater incentives to attract the medical practitioners necessary to support our population.

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