Janine van den Heuvel of the Algonquin Family Health Team spoke to Huntsville’s general committee this week on behalf of MAOHT, seeking the municipality’s support for the campaign.
“We are trying to recruit primary care providers—nurse practitioners and family physicians—to come and work and live and play in Muskoka,” said van den Heuvel. “There are several facets to that problem, and it’s early days. To get down to the kernel of the issue, we would like the support of the Town to begin to develop some recruitment products that we can start to distribute and use on behalf of the MAOHT in a hope to encourage new family physicians and nurse practitioners to come and work in Muskoka.”
Councillor Bob Stone, who has been involved in early recruitment discussions, added, “…it’s exciting and it’s much needed, especially with the future retirements that are about to come up. Need is growing, so I think this attraction brochure, website, whatever we’re actually trying to put together in collaboration with the docs and hospitals, hopefully we can secure some new docs in town. There are almost 1,400 people on the waitlist which is a whole lot of people that we know already are asking for docs and there’s probably a lot more. The need is there and probably growing.”
Mayor Karin Terziano said helping to get word out would be a “good fit” for the Town’s economic development and marketing departments.
van den Heuvel noted that physician shortages are not unique to Muskoka, citing a recent Toronto Star article which reported that fewer medical school graduates are choosing family medicine as their discipline.
In response to a comment from Councillor Tim Withey that physician recruitment isn’t a new thing, van den Heuvel said that what is new is “we’re going to start attacking this as a MAOHT. Within the OHT are several healthcare and community social service agencies that are working together, including the hospital, both family health teams, and the physicians… What’s different now is the pressure is on a little bit more to be able to really recruit at a more coordinated and larger scale…”
In a later conversation with Doppler, van den Heuvel said that a task force will be struck to address physician recruitment, and that the full need isn’t yet known—there may be people on multiple waitlists, and the health team’s waitlist may not include everyone who is in need of a primary care provider.
“We appreciate there is some anxiety out there for those on the waitlist,” she said.
Dr. David Mathies, co-chair of the MAOHT collaborative steering committee, told Doppler that it is a large need that requires a more coordinated strategy than the previous ad hoc approach. But there won’t be a quick fix, he noted.
“It takes eight years to make a doctor,” said Dr. Mathies, adding that the recent announcement regarding hospital funding in Muskoka will be an attraction for future primary care providers. He asked those without a family physician or nurse practitioner to be patient while the MAOHT organizes its recruitment campaign and implements a strategy to fix the issue.
For those who are waiting for a primary care provider, Dr. Mathies said that some walk-ins clinics are available, and while not the most satisfactory option, hospital emergency departments are there if someone has a dire need for care. He advised anyone new to the area who has a primary care provider in another community to maintain that relationship for now. “I would love to be able to help everyone,” he said, but individual physicians and nurse practitioners can only do so much.
One of the ways the municipality and community will be able to help address the shortage is in helping to find jobs for the non-health care spouses of physicians and nurse practitioners, he added.
The MAOHT comprises 15 health and social services agencies including Algonquin Family Health Team, Cottage Country Family Health Team, Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare, the North Muskoka Nurse Practitioner-Led Clinic, family physicians, seniors’ organizations, the Canadian Mental Health Association, and Muskoka-Parry Sound Sexual Assault Services. It was one of the first Ontario Health Teams announced in December 2019 under the Province’s plan “to provide a new way of organizing and delivering care that is more connected to patients in their local communities.”
The OHT system is an integration exercise, said Dr. Mathies, which will break down the silos dividing different types of care and offer more of a “one-stop shop” for health care, ensuring that both health care providers and patients will be better able to access the services they need.
For more information about the MAOHT, visit engagemuskoka.ca/MAOHT.
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