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County health team faces wave of retiring professionals, and aging patients

More family physicians and healthcare professionals will be needed in Prince Edward County as current providers move into retirement, and the baby boomer population here ages.

While the family doctor wait list continues in the County, the provincial Ministry of Health caps the Prince Edward Family Health Team (PEFHT) at 23 physicians.

“Last year we brought our wait list down by 450 people,” said PEFHT Executive Director Debbie Korzeniowski, noting there were still 800 people waiting to find a family doctor. “It takes about two years and this is provincially experienced by all Ontarians.”

Korzeniowski, with Dr. Don Koval, made a presentation to County council Tuesday night, to raise the profile on the need for more physicians – a provincial, and local issue.

“Our physician shortages are relevant,” she said, noting retirements, including Koval’s after more than 30 years service, will have dramatic impact.

“It’s incumbent upon us to find replacements for those practices that are in full roster,” she said. “What we don’t have are spots to bring in new physicians to take on the wait list burden.”

The wait lists become more complex with Prince Edward County’s aging demographic.

Korzeniowski noted the County’s increase of people aged 55 and over in need of healthcare, and small decreases of middle age and youth – plus an increase in demand from tourist season visits to the emergency room.

Prince Edward County has the second highest senior population in the province. The seasonal need for care during tourist season, she noted, is also significant, and requires more staff be available.

“The government has endorsed that our hospital is an after-hours and weekend clinic – that’s different than urban scenarios where they have different types of facilities for people to find access to care.”

Korzeniowski explained the PEFHT must be prepared for the coming wave of retiring professionals.

“In the last four or five years we’ve replaced 25 physicians due to retirement, and expect that could be the same number in the next three to five years to come.”

Physician retirements come with a broader issue as those in the health care services sector are also planning to retire – including optometrists, audiologists, physiotherapists, dental hygienists and personal support workers and nurses in palliative care.

Currently the PEFHT’s 23 family doctors staff the emergency department at the hospital and provide inpatient care and medical coverage for four long-term care homes. They also provide palliative in-home and Hospice care in Picton, and also organize and consult with 18 clinical programs and services.

The Physician Recruitment and Retention Working Group meets regularly with the municipality’s Community Development Department to ramp up efforts to attract and foster leads to physicians and healthcare professionals to relocate to the County.

So far, three to five physicians are planning to join the PEFHT in 2020, but Korzeniowski notes this will only keep up with physician retirement.

Korzeniowski explained the caps on the number of doctors were put in place by the province to help encourage doctors to move to underserviced areas.

Answering questions from council, Dr. Koval noted patients are willing to travel to get to emergency departments in the area (Trenton, Belleville, Napanee) and many prefer the County’s hospital.

“The patients are willing to move to the place they prefer and it often relates to wait lists, or how long it takes to get in to see the doctor,” he said. “We see a lot from north of the County – Napanee, Deseronto, Frankford, Madoc, Trenton – they come from all over.”

Koval noted a website that features “nearly live” wait times for emergency departments.

“Ours are characteristically the lowest in the area and people like our doctors, partly because we are all family physicians, versus some other departments that are “travelling” physicians who aren’t tied to the community… and some patients don’t have the same confidence in their follow up with colleagues, because they don’t know their colleagues very well.”

Koval said governments have always used the reduction of the supply of physicians to try reduce the amount of money spent and have reduced beds at hospitals forever.

“When I came here in 1967 we had 64 beds in our hospital and now we have 14. (in surge now, at 18, because of flu season).”

He noted the County’s hospital is fortunate to have a pipeline of resident doctors from Queen’s University, and living in the County “is not a hard sell. This is a great place to live and we are incredibly fortunate to have the number of physicians we have, but we would like to look after the wait list properly.”

Filed Under: Local News

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