21,000 C-K residents still without a family doc

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By Bird Bouchard
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Ridgetown Independent

Despite successfully attracting six new doctors to the municipality last year, the Chatham-Kent Family Physician Recruitment and Retention Task Force says it needs dozens more.

According to the Chatham-Kent Ontario Health Team, they need to hire at least 33 more family physicians over the next several years.

Currently, 60 family physicians are practicing in Chatham-Kent. However, some areas require more attention than others, as Chatham has 34 physicians, Wallaceburg and Walpole Islands have eight, Tilbury has six, Blenheim five, Ridgetown three, Dresden with two and Thamesville and Wheatley each have one.

In a report that went before council recently, the Health Team noted nearly 21,000 residents are currently without a primary care provider.

“Talent attraction and retention continues to be a priority area of focus into 2023 and beyond,” director of community attraction and promotion Audrey Ansell said in her report. “Workforce shortages are noted across many sectors, including health care.”

The task force recruited six family physicians to the area in 2022 and is hopeful for funding to continue their recruitment efforts.

Since 2020, COVID-19 has impacted the ability of the Task Force to execute some planned in-person outreach and attraction activities. As a result, a small, positive cash balance is currently reported by the Chatham-Kent Family Health Team, which administers finances on behalf of the task force.

Additionally, the task force also hired a family physician recruitment co-ordinator to support the task force’s work and act as the lead for family physician engagement and retention.

At the latest council meeting, the task force went before council to ask for council to continue to fund the Chatham-Kent family physician recruitment and retention task force at the current rate of $100,000 per annum in support of ongoing efforts to ensure Chatham-Kent residents have access to a primary health-care provider. It has received $300,000 from the municipality in the last three years.

In the 2019 budget, council agreed to allocate one-time funding to the family physician recruitment and retention initiative in the sum of $100,000.

In the 2021 budget, council agreed to one-time funding for a two-year period, in the sum of $200,000 ($100,00 per annum in each of 2021 and 2022). The Chatham-Kent Family Health Team holds the funds, acting as administrator on behalf of the task force.

“In terms of the future, we would like to focus on continued physician incentives. Each new full-time family physician that is recruited to C-K would receive a $10,000 incentive to get their practice running,” said Denise Waddick, executive director, Thamesview Family Health Team and co-chair of the family physician recruitment task force.

While many councillors agreed the need for family physicians is extremely important, they had many questions.

South Kent Coun. Trevor Thompson asked for an explanation of the impact the money would have on the overall health-care system.

According to Waddick, the past year has been successful. She added the money is being put to good use, as several doctors are now residents of Chatham-Kent.

“Based on the past year, we have been successful,” she said. “Looking at the residents that are choosing to come to Chatham-Kent is another way we can quantify. The money is actually being put to good use. In addition, we can also provide a report on the number of visits and/or contacts when we reach out for recruitment fairs. That’s another report we can provide to council.”

Ultimately, Thompson said he believes contributing to the Task Force is very important.

“It was a 0.06-per-cent tax impact, and I think that’s money well spent,” he said.

West Kent Coun. Lauren Anderson also questioned how the $100,000 would be spent.

“When we talk about this $10,000 incentive, if you want to recruit 10 people and give them $10,000 each, is that enough,” she questioned.

Waddick said historically, the $10,000 incentive seems to be a key number.

“It allows the new physician to get comfortable and situated within the first few months. There sometimes tends to be if you give them too much, they’re coming for the wrong reasons, but if you don’t give them enough, they need a bit more support to get situated,” she said.

In a perfect world, Fannie Vavouvilis, co-chair of the family physician recruitment task force, said they would recruit 33 new physicians in 2023. However, she noted if they’re able to recruit four to five, it will be a successful year.

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