Surgeons to go on salary

It’s been two years in the making but Northwestern Ontario now has an alternate payment plan for surgeons.
Dr. J.A. Spencer announced here Monday that as of July 1, surgeons at Fort Frances, Kenora, Dryden, Sioux Lookout, Red Lake, and Atikokan will receive an annual salary from the Ministry of Health rather than the present fee-for-service.
Two surgeons in Kenora, Drs. Jack Spielman and Carole Spread, and Dr. Tina Williams in Sioux Lookout, have signed on to the deal so far. And Dr. Barry Armstrong in Dryden has indicated he will sign on once they get another surgeon there.
Though Atikokan and Red Lake don’t have surgeons, they will be covered by the regional surgery network.
The Ministry of Health could not be reached by press time to reveal details of the package.
Meanwhile, Dr. Spencer, chief surgeon of the newly-formed Northwestern Ontario Regional Surgery Network, is convinced this will be an excellent recruiting tool to bring new surgeons to the area–and retain them.
In fact, the “salary” concept already has landed Fort Frances a second surgeon. Dr. Barry Anderson of Winnipeg sent a letter to Dr. Spencer agreeing to start at La Verendrye hospital effective Jan. 1, 1999.
“The community is going to be better served,” agreed Mayor Glenn Witherspoon, with the town taking an active role in doctor recruitment.
Though he hadn’t heard the news yet, Mark Balcaen, administrator at Lake of the Woods Hospital in Kenora, said the surgery network would give surgeons more certainty in their practice, noting it was difficult for any surgeon to be on-call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
“We are committed to have meetings which will help with the isolation,” Dr. Spencer said Monday, stressing the group will be a key educational forum for all the surgeons.
“[And] we’re now in a position to have surgical residents,” he added.
That is important because in isolated areas, the surgeons are required to perform a wide range of operations. And when Dr. Spencer is out of town, the district won’t be left without a surgeon.
For those communities with just one surgeon, he said this will mean more efficient cross-coverage.
“It’s unfair for people in the community if you have to close down your surgical unit to give your surgeon a break,” agreed Balcaen. “We’ve been waiting with anticipation for all this to go through.”