Doctor shortages a rising concern in Haldimand Norfolk

Doctor shortages a rising concern in Haldimand Norfolk

By Mike Renzella

The Haldimand Press

HALDIMAND—During a recent Council session, Councillor Bernie Corbett, serving as Deputy Mayor in the absence of Ken Hewitt, spoke up about an issue he finds very concerning, the growing problems facing Haldimand residents due to an inadequate amount of doctors working in the community.

“I’m 75, I have a compromised system, I have diabetes, and I find myself in a position where I will no longer have a doctor, mine is retiring. I share this concern with over 2,000 people in our community. It is a concern,” said Corbett. “It’s been very upsetting for us in our home, and other people in the municipality. We cannot get a doctor. They give us a number to call and nobody is taking patients… They shuffle us away from our community.”

Corbett added, “In the next five years we have seven to eight doctors retiring. Right now, we’re in a position where we’re three to four short already. It’s one of those situations where I think the Municipality should strongly consider putting together funding to see that we can attract doctors not only to Dunnville, but throughout our county.”  

We asked Haldimand’s Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Matt Strauss for his thoughts on the matter. He responded, “I am only beginning to study this issue.”

However, Dr. Strauss did point us towards the Haldimand Norfolk Health and Social Services Community Needs Assessment from 2019, which contains the following troubling bit of information: There are 57.8 physicians per 100,000 people in Haldimand and Norfolk, compared to national rates of 241 doctors per 100,000 people across Canada.

County Manager of Planning and Development Mike Evers is part of a small working group that was started up by the Haldimand War Memorial Hospital and the West Haldimand General Hospital. As the County representative, his assigned role will be to support physician recruitment efforts through marketing of the County, data provision (population forecasts/distribution), and space identification. 

Evers shared his thoughts on the issue, and the preliminary work the County is doing to start to address it: “The biggest concern that exists right now is the impending retirements of a number of doctors over the next few years. Layered on top of that is the roster size of Haldimand physicians is already uncharacteristically high. When you factor in retirements, there’s a concern that that roster size could be pressured to grow even more, when it’s already at an unsustainable point for those that are currently practising.”

He continued, “We are operating, and have for many years, at a ‘number of physicians per 100 people’ rate that is about half the provincial averages. We know we’ve got to bring that number up, even outside of the fact that we have a number of retirements coming down the pipe.” 

Corbett lamented the fact that the “new generation” of medical students want to specialize, and, “they want to work 8-4,”, adding that in addition to these issues driving talent out of Haldimand’s smaller hospitals and into some of the larger ones in neighbouring communities, the Province should make it easier for immigrant physicians from other countries to work locally, “They make it hard for them to come into our community to be active. It is a major concern.” 

As for how the County plans to attract new talent, Evers explained, “This is something that will require a recruiter. That’s something we will be moving towards. In terms of the funding of that, that’s something we’ll have to wrap our heads around. Going forward, it’s likely that a request from the hospitals for Council to consider some sort of contribution to that, but we’re not at that stage yet.”

Evers said that County staff will work with the recruiter to help market Haldimand as a “great place to live, work, and set up your practice.”

The issue is not unique to Haldimand, with neighbouring municipalities on all sides also feeling the pinch, which could work against the County, “There’s going to be a pretty significant competition in terms of recruiting… That’s the road we have ahead of us. We know it’s an issue, and we’re rolling up our sleeves and ready to get to work,” concluded Evers.