Billings Township to provide financial support toward Gore Bay doctor recruitment

GORE BAY – Billings Township council has decided to provide funding toward the recruitment of a new physician(s) for the Gore Bay Medical Centre, over the next two years.

“I will read a resolution (that was to be brought forward at a previous council meeting which was cancelled) to approve a financial request of $4,000 per year for two years toward the physician recruitment,” said Billings Mayor Ian Anderson at a council meeting held April 7. He pointed out township staff will also send a letter to the Town of Gore Bay proposing the creation of a formal physician recruitment and retention working group, with representation from both council and staff of all affected municipalities and community partners.

Mayor Anderson explained, “on March 5, I was invited to attend a meeting in Gore Bay hosted by the town. They have been for some time looking to replace two of the doctors in the (Gore Bay) Medical Centre (Dr. Robert Hamilton and Dr. Shelagh McRae) who would like to retire this year.”

Mayor Anderson told council that the medical centre has a base of between 2,000 to 2,500 patients per year. “Interestingly, Western Manitoulin has a population of about 2,600 residents. And the medical centre has 10,000 patient visits per year which is basically the same number as the emergency department at the Mindemoya hospital sees in a year. This shows how dramatic it could be if doctors can’t be recruited at the medical centre.”

At the meeting March 5, municipal leaders on Western Manitoulin Island (from Gore Bay, Gordon/Barrie Island, Burpee and Mills, Billings and Robinson Township (Sheshegwaning First Nation and Zhiibaahaasing are also on the committee but did not have a representative at the meeting) tentatively agreed that in trying to recruit a new physician for the Gore Bay Medical Centre that they will have to look at providing incentives, such as potentially providing free rent to a new physician, a signing bonus and relocation bonus. Gore Bay Mayor Dan Osborne said the town is part of the Huron North Rural Health Care Professional Group which is actively trying to recruit doctors for the Gore Bay Medical Centre as well as other Island and off-Island communities.

Mayor Osborne also said at the March meeting that he had polled Gore Bay council and they felt the town would look at providing such things as free daycare, free dockage, fitness centre fees, providing the office rent free for a year, signing and relocation bonuses, or moving expenses. However, as a town they can’t provide all the costs for any, or several of these, and that is why the town is asking for help from the other Western Manitoulin municipalities and First Nations.” 

Mayor Anderson pointed out at last week’s meeting, “Drs. Hamilton and McRae have not given their official date of two months’ notice of retirement.” 

“At our meeting we looked at several incentives that could be offered to new physicians,” said Mayor Anderson, including a signing bonus, relocation support and free rent (which totals approximately $30,000). We are hoping all the municipalities and First Nations will share in the costs.” 

“Everyone recognizes the urgency,” said Mayor Anderson. “And part of the discussion was to put something together to emphasize and promote the lifestyle of Manitoulin Island. The money is nice, but if we can’t first recruit new doctors and have them stay, it doesn’t benefit. We felt it is really important to highlight the Island lifestyle to potential doctor recruits.”

“Billings represents 23 percent of the population in the area currently served by the Gore Bay Medical Centre,” pointed out Mayor Anderson. He said on a per capita basis for a total of $30,000, our municipality’s share would be about $7,000. However, we believe these original figures won’t be enough, so the resolution was brought forward for Billings to provide $4,000 for two years.”

Councillors Sharon Alkenbrack, Sharon Jackson, Michael Hunt, and Bryan Barker, along with Mayor Anderson voted in favour of the motion for Billings to provide to provide $4,000 per year over two years for the doctor recruitment plan.