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County needs more doctors; may need stronger financial incentives

With three family doctors retiring and a wait list of approximately 600 patients, The Prince Edward County Health Team (PEFHT) plans to launch its second program in three years to recruit new physicians to the team.

Debbie Korzeniowski

Debbie Korzeniowski, PEFHT Executive Director, and Dr. Noah Walman, in a deputation to council, seek another recruitment partnership with the County, and suggest strengthening financial incentives. (UPDATE: Council meeting  cancelled due to technical difficulties with the live stream. The meeting is tentatively rescheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 7 pm.)

“PEFHT has an immediate need for five family physicians,” their deputation states, noting the 600 people on the wait list and a 2.5 to three-year wait to get a family doctor.

A total of 10 new family doctors are needed over the next five years to replace those who are retiring.

Recruitment, she noted is a provincial issue as well as a local issue. The provincial government issues family physician “spots” and the County has 23; their office staff, plus allied health care providers including nurse practitioners, mental health counsellors and others.

With offices located in Picton and Wellington, the PEFHT cares for 23,000 people annually, and more when visitors come through the emergency department. The doctors also provide palliative care in home and through Hospice Prince Edward; staff the hospital’s emergency room and provide inpatient care, along with services at the County’s four long-term care homes.

The PEFHT is in discussion with the Ministry of Health for additional ‘spots’ as the County’s demographic continues its shift since 2016 of a declining youth population, and growing number of seniors.

Their report noted that due to the diverse responsibilities of a rural doctor, the best candidate is a physician just finishing their residency.

And while working in the County has always been an attractive location for doctors seeking ‘cradle to grave’ practises, local competition could sway these new graduates who are leaving school with debt loads of more than $100,000.

Quinte West offers $100,000 in return for a five-year commitment ($20,000 per year for signing an agreement for a full-time practice).

Belleville offers $150,000 for a five-year deal, paid in six installments.

Hastings County with Town of Greater Napanee offers a joint recruitment opportunity of $100,000.

In 2017, the municipality and PEFHT established a physician recruitment working group and formalized in 2018 with council committing $20,000 per year toward the effort.

Recruitment to the County is enhanced by its favourable community setting for starting or raising young families, work-life balance, and team-based care well respected for its supportive peers and innovative programs.

Employment opportunities for spouses, she noted, must also be considered by candidates, as is affordable housing, which with the current high market and low stock, could easily be a barrier for recruitment.

“Understanding our target recruitment group for securing new physicians requires overcoming recruitment barriers,” said Korzeniowski. “Many strengths exist currently to keep us competitive but some considerations take longer time horizons to realize ideal outcomes (for more employment and housing opportunities).

“Strengthening financial incentives may elevate our prominence in the marketplace and could be more immediate.”

And while new housing developments are burgeoning in the County, the patient wait-lists will also grow and add stress to the existing domino effect of retiring physicians, increased load for remaining doctors causing burnout, leading to further retirements.

 

The PEFT has a long-standing affiliation with the Queen’s University school of medicine with ongoing practicums and residency rotations.

In the last recruitment program, the County and PEFHT also attended career fairs, cultivated potential physician inquiries and secured six doctors.

“Drivers for those six family physicians choosing PEC shared one common element: individual situations where PEC was already a known, and not dependent directly on recruitment financial incentives (family in PEC, spouses in wine industry),” said Korzeniowski, noting this scenario appears not to be repeatable.

 

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