Town out to improve doctor recruitment

Duane Hicks

Some local residents are very concerned about the effectiveness of doctor recruitment in Fort Frances—and town council has agreed, noting it is doing what it can to improve recruitment in the future.
Allan T. Bedard, of the Northern Action Group (NAG), addressed council Monday evening, expressing grave concerns over the doctor shortage that has resulted in what he calls a “health care crisis” in Fort Frances and posing questions outlined in a letter that was published in last week’s Times.
“I think the most serious of issues in this document is the recruitment of doctors—how that’s going to take place, when it’s going to take place, whose responsibility is it to do it?” Bedard remarked.
“Who’s doing the recruitment of doctors and what’s happening? Are we missing the boat? What are we doing there that’s causing us problems?” Bedard added later.
Mayor Roy Avis explained council also has been feeling that doctor recruitment could be done better, and has called for a better plan.
“Council is not happy with the results we’ve been getting and because of that, we put a resolution approximately a month ago, six weeks ago, just prior to Christmas, and we felt it [doctor recruitment] had to be reviewed,” he noted.
“So, therefore, we took our issues to the table at the recruitment and retention committee, we had deep discussion.”
Out of that, the town last month directed the Rainy River Future Development Corp. to hire a consultant to develop new terms of reference for the doctor recruitment and retention committee, as well as examine the current model for potential revisions and enhancements and come up with something better.
The results of that study will be made public when it comes forward.
The mayor noted there is a doctor recruitment fund in place, saying that between 2004-05 and 2009-10, the town has allocated $380,547 to it.
Abitibi has contributed $34,500, Riverside Health Care Facilities, Inc. $335,000, and Nelson Medical Professional Corp. $6,225.
Some of the $750,000 plus in the fund has been spent on doctor recruitment, but right now the account sits at around $500,000.
Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig echoed the fund has been built up and is necessary to be ready to take advantage of opportunities when they come (for example, to help pay for a student doctor’s education if they agree to practice here).
Mayor Avis noted the town also has offered in-kind services to get doctors to move here.
“With your biggest concern—about doctor recruitment and retention—I agree with you 100 percent,” Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft told Bedard.
“I am very concerned about that,” he stressed. “I am concerned about how our model has not produced results.
“As Mayor Avis already indicated, we are having a consultant develop a new model.
“We don’t want to just dump the old one without something in place,” Coun. Wiedenhoeft stressed. “If we’re going to go forward with this, we want to do it right.
“So we are going to come forward with a new model that’s going to be, in my opinion, better than the model we have right now for doctor recruitment and doctor retention,” he pledged.
Coun. Wiedenhoeft noted he doesn’t agree with Bedard about the doctor situation being in “crisis mode” at this point in time.
“Is it a concern? Obviously it is. Is it a crisis? My opinion of a crisis is you cannot get a doctor’s appointment, there’s no one in emergency, there’s no one in the clinic to serve you,” he argued.
“I don’t think we’re at a crisis stage yet.”
“If we’re not in a crisis mode now, over the next couple of years we’re going to be, and it might even be shorter than that,” warned Coun. Ken Perry, who is chair of the Fort Frances Community Clinic board of directors.
He noted three doctors over the age of 70 are working right now at the clinic, one over of whom is over 85. And while he “would hate to lose any of them,” it’s only natural they must be thinking about retiring sometime.
Coun. Perry said the Fort Frances Community Clinic has approached the doctor recruitment committee and Ministry of Health to see if there is anything it can do as a clinic to help attract more doctors here.
Aside from doctor recruitment, Bedard said there is confusion over details of the clinic. He posed questions such as what exactly did the town’s $1-million loan to the Fort Frances Community Clinic pay for, as well as what is Nelson Medicine Professional Corp. and what role does it play?
Mayor Avis answered what questions he could, stressing council couldn’t answer all of Bedard’s questions but that it would try and get answers for him, or Bedard could approach the clinic himself for information.
“I’ll speak for myself and council . . . I think the Family Health Team and Fort Frances Community Clinic was the right way to go for this municipality, under the direction of the Ministry of Health,” the mayor added.
“The town provided an interest-free loan of $1 million at zero percent interest, payable over 15 years. That was to the Fort Frances Community Clinic,” he noted.
“To date, that loan is in current standing and they make their payments regularly,” added the mayor, explaining the town should be seen strictly as a bank which loaned money to the non-profit corporation.
“We didn’t purchase the shares. The shares were purchased by the Fort Frances Community Clinic . . . the Fort Frances Community Clinic purchased the land, building, and equipment,” Mayor Avis stressed.
The Fort Frances Community Clinic is a community-based, not-for-profit corporation with a board of directors.
Coun. Perry, who sits on the board as a citizen and not an appointee of council, noted he became chair back in August.
“Things aren’t as great as I’d like them to be right now,” Coun. Perry admitted. “We’re working around some things.
“We’ve changed our board of directors in the last little while. That’s why we’re short directors right now,” he noted.
“We’re down to a minimum and we’ll probably going to be looking for more directors shortly.”
Coun. Perry clarified the Fort Frances Community Clinic runs the clinic, under the guise of the Family Health Team, which is funded by the Ministry of Health.
Nelson Medicine Professional Corp. is a tenant of the building, and contracts services and equipment from the Fort Frances Community Clinic which it bought with the $1-million loan, Coun. Perry explained, later noting Nelson Medicine Professional Corp. is a billing agent for the doctors.
Bedard said NAG would like to meet with Coun. Perry as chairperson of the Fort Frances Community Clinic.
He explained one of the big problems NAG is having is getting people in to see their doctors within the time limits allowed within workers’ comp, Canada Pension, disability claims, and so forth, which is further complicated when there are fewer doctors or doctors are taking more time off.
“The questions won’t go away,” Bedard vowed. “We’re not here to have a fight over the Family Health Team. The nay-sayers fought that five years ago.
“What we’re saying now is the system is in place and we’ve got to make it work . . . .
“But the question is how is it working? We’re not seeing the effects and benefits we were instructed five years ago as to what was going to happen,” he argued.
McCaig noted the issue of doctor recruitment should be separated from the Family Health Team, which has allowed the clinic to access new funding, gain two nurse practitioners to alleviate some pressure on physicians, and add new allied health professionals and programs the clinic never had before.
Coun. Perry reiterated the Family Health Team here is “doing a heckuva job,” with two nurse practitioners who in four months time have seen more than 6,000 patients.
“I don’t know where our doctor appointments would be if it weren’t for the 6,000 patients that were seen by those nurse practitioners,” he remarked.
“We have an RN that does home visits . . . our programs are expanding daily. We’ve got more things on the books,” he added.
“We want to get through this [doctor shortage] problem we have right now and get on with a lot of the programs we’re allowed to do,” Coun. Perry added.
“It’s going to happen, it really is.”