Town to keep paying for doctor recruitment

Duane Hicks

The Town of Fort Frances will maintain its current level of financial commitment for local doctor recruitment in its 2016 budget.
Council agreed during its budget meeting last Thursday to contribute $69,000 ($68,000 plus a $1,000 contingency fund), but it also want surrounding communities to pitch in.
Back in January, town council received a letter from the Fort Frances & District Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee requesting the town increase its annual contribution from $69,000 to $80,000.
But council reasoned that while it must continue to support recruitment and retention efforts, which have been successful in getting four new doctors and a new surgeon here, Fort Frances should not be the only one paying.
“I’m quite happy to leave it where it is because I think we’re making a major contribution,” said Mayor Roy Avis.
“We’re not seeing any movement from any municipalities in the district,” he noted.
“We’ll offset some of the cost.
“I think we have to see where we are and make sure that we look after residents of the community the best we can,” the mayor added.
“I can’t see us take back what’s there today,” agreed Coun. John Albanese, noting he would not want to see any future opportunities for recruitment jeopardized by the lack of the town’s financial contribution.
Coun. Doug Kitowksi said he doesn’t support an increase in the town’s payment; he would rather see other communities help pay into doctor recruitment.
“Why are they raising ours? Go get it somewhere else,” he argued.
Coun. Ken Perry agreed, noting that at the recent OGRA/ROMA conference in Toronto, he was speaking with PC leader Patrick Brown, who told him that Fort Frances should not have to pay for doctor recruitment.
“He said to me, ‘You should be paying nothing,’” Coun. Perry said.
“His opinion is the Ministry of Long-Term Care and Health should be paying for doctor recruitment and any enhancements to bring doctors to our municipalities.”
Likewise, former Dryden Mayor Craig Nuttall told Mayor Roy Avis at the same event that Dryden does not put any money into doctor recruitment there.
Coun. Wendy Brunetta, who sits on the committee, noted that when a doctor is successfully recruited, costs go up.
The committee has a recruitment fund, but it has dwindled with each successful recruitment as the committee has to pay out when a new doctor signs a contract to work here.
Upon signing a Return of Service agreement for two years, the committee provides each new physician with a $60,000 financial incentive, a $10,000 moving budget, and an additional $7,000 in lifestyle items (i.e., marina slip, golf and gym memberships, entertainment series, etc.)
The committee also has to pay for a full-time recruiter, as well as for locums to cover emergency, locum housing, site visits for potential recruits, and more.
“That’s where they’re struggling,” Coun. Brunetta noted.
“They’ve done such a good job recruiting, now they’re stuck because they don’t have the money to keep these doctors.”
She agreed Fort Frances should not be the only source of income for recruitment and retention.
“Everyone in the district benefits from our emergency room, from our doctors, including the First Nations,” Coun. Brunetta stressed.
“I think there needs to be a real concerted effort from the committee or the hospital to find other sources of funding, and not just come back to the one source that they have,” she reasoned.
Mayor Avis noted the issue was supposed to have to discussed at the Rainy River District Municipal Association meeting in January, but “that did not happen.”
Town council also agreed that the Fort Frances & District Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee should ask area municipalities and First Nations for more money.
The doctor recruitment grant the town has been paying was at one time a capital grant for La Verendrye Hospital—the result of a long-standing agreement between the town and hospital which expired this year.
The agreement stems back to 1941, when it was struck between the Sisters of Charity and the town.
Its purpose was to provide electricity and telephone service without charge to facilitate the construction of the hospital here.
The agreement was re-worded in 1975 to specify La Verendrye Hospital and not Sisters of Charity.
It then was tweaked again in 1983, when the amount paid was increased to account for rising water, sewer, and electricity costs.
In the mid-2000s, Riverside Health Care Facilities, Inc. suggested the grant be earmarked for physician recruitment and retention purposes to help address the doctor shortage—and the town agreed.