Made-in-north health care strategy needed

Since being elected in October, I’ve tried to cover many topics both in my weekly columns and at Queen’s Park.
There are many issues of concern in our region that need to be addressed by the provincial government, but one of the most urgent is re-examining how health care is delivered in our communities.
Recently, two community health centres in this riding alone have faced serious challenges in order to keep their doors open. While the situations in both are very different, the message is the same: the current health-care framework is failing northern communities.
With the province about to enter contract negotiations with our doctors, I feel there’s no better time to propose a review of the system and bring all sides together to find a made-in-the-north solution to the unique challenges our region faces.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been fortunate enough to sit down with community leaders and health-care professionals, and there seems to be an overwhelming sense that a northern health strategy is needed to ensure all communities have access to doctors and other health professionals.
One of the biggest challenges we face is that when it comes to bringing in doctors, all health-care facilities are not treated equally. Health centres are classified differently and qualify for different pay scales, meaning a doctor working one emergency room may be paid $75 per hour while their counterpart down the road may be making more than double that rate for the same job.
As a result, I think we need to seriously consider implementing a “northern rate” for physicians, where doctors in all northern communities are treated equally.
Exactly how that rate would apply would have to be worked out, but I would suggest the province seriously consider incentives for northern doctors to help our communities battle their current shortages.
Shortages inevitably will pop up and that’s why I believe the province needs to work on being more flexible and eliminating some of the red tape when staffing issues arise.
The recent issue in Ear Falls showed that communities can have viable solutions worked out, but still may face delays in getting approval.
I believe any strategy needs to look at the cause of these delays and have policies in place for fast, short-term solutions, including easier access to locums and partnerships with other jurisdictions that temporarily could service short-staffed communities.
I do not claim to have all the answers but by focusing on solutions, we can find a strategy that works for the north.
It’s time for us to all work together to make this a reality.

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