Slow progress on the physician recruitment front

By Emily Stonehouse

Since the Minden ER closed its doors in June of this year, the hot topic of physician recruitment has been a buzz term in the Haliburton Highlands. 

When Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS) made the decision to close down the Minden ER site, they alluded to a shortage of staff as one of their main reasons. 

The county of Haliburton currently has Wendy Welch in the role of physician recruitment coordinator; a role that has been fairly quiet to the public aside from the occasional presentation to county council. Physician recruitment falls within the county’s economic development department. 

On their website, a tab through the My Haliburton Highlands web page, the recruitment page is filled with incentives and objectives for bringing physicians to the community. This includes the Haliburton County Return of Service Incentive, which totals $25,000 a year for up to six years for full-time practice commitment, the Northern Rural Recruitment and Retention (NRRR) program, totaling $91,000 over four years, and the Canada Student Loan Forgiveness for family doctors, where physicians could receive $40,000 in loan forgiveness. 

The website also notes that there are currently eight full time physicians in the region, and they are seeking at least five more to join the team, in order to support the 10,600 patients, and the 1400 on the waitlist. 

In a report to council on Oct. 25, Welch outlined the initiatives that are underway in an attempt to reach this goal, such as housing the county has secured in both Minden and Haliburton to offer accommodations for physicians. The report included additional fees the county will include in the 2024 operational budget to ensure the homes are cleaned and maintained for physicians. 

Welch also outlined a series of recruitment fairs and conferences the county has attended in an attempt to highlight the region, but noted trends that have been observed through the recruitment process, including the fact that “Physicians appear more interested in learning about locum opportunities and not settling into a community,” read the report. 

The report goes on to highlight an ad the county ran with the British Medical Journal, which ran for five weeks, with 22 physicians submitting their CV. From that number though,only half were eligible based on the country they received their medical training from. 

At this time, only applicants from the UK, Ireland, Australia, and the United States are eligible to practice medicine in Canada. 

It was noted in the report that Welch intends to follow through with a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), which is necessary when bringing in physicians who are not permanent residents of Canada. 

The county must show proof of attempting to hire in Canada, followed by candidates visiting the community for an assessment, followed by a formal application to be completed by the employer; which would come at a cost to the county of $1000 per applicant. These items will be noted in the 2024 budget in the works. 

This process was recently completed by the nearby Kinmount and District Family Health Centre’s Foundation, and was met with success when they recruited Dr. Lesslie Ponraja to their team full time earlier in the year.  

The Echo reached out to Welch to inquire about any updates on this report since it was presented to council in October, and Welch declined the opportunity for interview, noting that no changes have been made since. “The report is still accurate,” she said.