Municipal leaders working together to recruit new West Manitoulin doctor

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GORE BAY – Municipal leaders on Western Manitoulin tentatively agree that in trying to recruit a new physician for the Gore Bay Medical Centre, they will have to look at providing incentives such as potentially providing free rent to a new physician, a signing bonus and relocation bonus. 

“We are part of a doctor recruitment program for municipalities on Manitoulin Island and the area,” said Gore Bay Mayor Dan Osborne at a meeting with municipal leaders 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). He noted a representative of the Huron North Rural Health Care Professional (HNRHCP) group is actively trying to recruit doctors for the Gore Bay Medical Centre as well as other Island and off-Island communities.

“Our representative from HNRHCP has been actively trying to recruit for us and the other areas,” said Mayor Osborne. “We have moved to the forefront because two of our doctors (Dr. Robert Hamilton and Dr. Shelagh McRae) have announced their impending retirement.” He noted the doctors are required by the province to provide three months notice (to the province) before their actual retirement date, which they have not done yet.  

“All municipalities on Manitoulin Island realize the importance of the medical centre,” said Mayor Osborne. “If we can’t recruit an additional doctor, the patients there will have to go elsewhere,” said Mayor Osborne. He pointed out the Gore Bay Medical Centre doctors (which also includes Dr. Chantelle Wilson) has a patient roster of about 2,500, while Western Manitoulin has a population of about 2,700. “So this would be a big loss.”

“My doctor is here,” said Billings Township Mayor Ian Anderson.

Dr. Hamilton has indicated, “the medical centre has 10,000 patient visits a year, which is equivalent to what the emergency room at the Mindemoya Hospital sees in a year,” said Mayor Osborne. He pointed out, “at a previous meeting I was at, when this was mentioned it opened the eyes of everyone there. Where would these patients go if they couldn’t go to the medical centre in Gore Bay? They would have to go to the hospitals in Little Current and Mindemoya.”

“The question we need to answer today is what can we offer collectively to fill in the spaces,” said Mayor Osborne. The group looked at information provided that outlines what other communities on Manitoulin and the North Shore are providing in incentives to recruit new doctors. For Gore Bay, he noted there is currently nothing being provided in terms of incentives.

The doctors’ monthly rent of the Gore Bay Medical Centre building is $1,179.08 per month to the town. As well, a dentist who rents space in the building and Contact North take care of their own costs. The town takes care of maintenance on the building. 

“This is something the municipalities could do right away. We could say a new doctor would not have to pay rent (with the costs instead being made up by the local municipalities and First Nations),” suggested Burpee and Mills Reeve Ken Noland. 

“We could also look at providing a signing bonus for the first year a doctor locates here, and a bonus once they have remained here for, say, five years,” said Mayor Osborne.

“I polled our council (Gore Bay) and they feel we could look at providing such things as free daycare, free dockage, the fitness centre fees, providing the office rent free for a year, signing and relocation bonuses or moving expenses,” said Mayor Osborne, “but we as a town can’t provide all the costs for any, or several of these; that is why we are asking for help from the other municipalities and First Nations.” 

Diane Newlands of LAMBAC said that she had taken a recent survey and for a potential signing bonus, local churches and service clubs might help out. And in talking to another Island doctor she was told the group needs to outline the lifestyle of the Island as well to try and recruit a new doctor. 

“The recruiter said that as well,” said Mayor Osborne. “You can’t put a value on the lifestyle provided on the Island.”

Tim Mackinlay of Robinson Township said he had reached out to several doctors recently and proposed that a fund could be set up, wherein local municipalities, First Nations, community groups, businesses and individuals could for instance hold fundraisers and what is raised would go into this fund to recruit a new doctor. 

“The fund could be used in various ways, for instance to offset a newly graduated doctor’s school costs or for relocating here,” said Mr. McKinlay. 

Ms. Newlands suggested a local community profile brochure promoting the Island and its lifestyle could be put together to help the recruiter in trying to encourage doctors to relocate to Gore Bay. 

“That’s a great idea,” said Reeve Noland.

A dedicated website for trying to recruit new doctors online was another idea proposed and agreed on by the group.

The group agreed they would take back the idea of the municipalities and First Nations going together to provide free rent, signing and relocation bonuses to a new physician back to their local councils for more input and consideration, then the group will meet again in the near future.