Northern towns, lobby group want more money for medical school

By Rocco Frangione,
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The North Bay Nugget

A lobby group in Northeastern Ontario wants the provincial government to increase funding to the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) and it’s getting quick and positive support from its member municipalities.

The Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) wants the province to permanently increase NOSM’s annual base funding by $4 million.

FONOM’s Executive Director Mac Bain, who is also a North Bay city councillor, sent letters to the 110 member municipalities in Northeastern Ontario in mid-September and he’s already gotten back more than a dozen letters of support.

In the Algoma District, Blind River, Wawa and the Municipality of Huron Shores are supporting the $4 million initiative.

In the Almaguin Highlands, South River, Powassan, Strong Township and the Village of Sundridge are also throwing their support behind the initiative.

Sundridge Councillor Fraser Williamson told his colleagues one of the North’s biggest medical challenges is finding enough physicians.

In fact the resolution the municipalities are being asked to endorse points out that in Northern Ontario one in eight people don’t have access to a family doctor and many northerners need to travel long distances to access healthcare services.

About two years ago, former Sundridge Mayor Lyle Hall and his town council led the charge to have student enrolment increased at NOSM as one way to address the physician shortage.

In April of 2022 the province announced increases to all of Ontario’s medical schools including adding 71 more positions at NOSM’s campuses in Sudbury and Thunder Bay over five years.

Municipalities and NOSM welcomed the news as did FONOM but the lobby group points out that the base funding rate at NOSM hasn’t been increased enough to offset the growth but adding $4 million to that base rate should be able to accommodate the expansion.

NOSM has been very successful in seeing many of its graduates remain and practice in the North. Sundridge Councillor Williamson says “many students attending NOSM get used to northern life”.

“They like it and it increases the chances of them wanting to serve in Northern Ontario”, William said.

In Powassan, Councillor Dave Britton said anything municipalities can do to increase the number of physicians practicing in the north would be positive and his colleague Randy Hall noted that considering how the older generation is becoming even older, the request for an additional $4 million might not be enough.

FONOM says more than 90 percent of the NOSM graduates stay in the North and adds NOSM is one of Canada’s greatest success stories. It also says that today more than 400,000 residents in Northern Ontario receive primary and acute care from a NOSM trained doctor and furthermore, the medical school has created many specialists which has reduced the need for people to travel to Southern Ontario for specialized care.

But FONOM points out Northern Ontario still faces a healthcare crisis because it’s currently short more than 350 physicians and that’s not taking into account the northern doctors who plan to retire over the next several years.

Bain has already sent Premier Doug Ford a letter telling him what FONOM is requesting. He plans to send Ford another letter, perhaps in early November, that lists all the letters of support from the FONOM communities that passed the resolution.

Other northern communities that sent support letters to Bain to the end of September include Temiskaming Shores, Mattawan, Mattice-Val Cote, Hearst, Moosonee, Parry Sound, Kapuskasing, Billings Township on Manitoulin Island, Black River-Matheson, Bonfield and the Township of the Archipelago.

Bain expects many more letters during October as the local town councils deal with the FONOM resolution at their respective meetings.