BY ANDREW SMITH
LISTOWEL – The North Perth health professional recruitment committee is the latest to feel the pinch as municipal council continues to tighten the 2014 budget.
North Perth Family Health Team executive director Mary Atkinson, and community development coordinator Kimberley Kowch approached North Perth council on March 5, in an attempt to sway council’s decision to cut the annual $10,000 for doctor recruitment efforts. According to Kowch, doctor recruitment requires a long-term perspective.
“It takes a long period of time to develop relationships,” she said. “It’s very common to take a year to two years for initial contact before a physician considers accepting a position.”
Despite the same challenge facing a number of communities, North Perth has already been successful in securing a new doctor to the area in May.
“We’ve been very successful in a short period of time with our physician recruitment program,” Kowch said. “Many communities have taken seven or eight years to have any success, we’re fortunate that way.”
Kowch said Listowel and area is currently defined as being underserved by three doctors, and that there can be challenges in replacing long-time doctors with recent graduates.
“Within the next five years, we have a number of physicians approaching retirement so we need to keep that in mind,” she said. “With the changing generation and the new life balance, it’s very common for two physicians to replace one physician.”
In speaking with medical students, Kowch has heard that community support is a strong consideration in where they decide to practice, and municipal funding would go a long way to demonstrate that.
“For them, that equals community support,” Kowch said. “Especially for people who are considering a rural family practice, having community support is really paramount.”
Atkinson said recruitment funding has already been secured from the Listowel Memorial Hospital Foundation and the annual Ladies Night Out fundraiser, but without participation from the municipality, the future of Kowch’s role with the committee could be in question.
“Starting next year, we are going to currently be in a deficit position, which will make it difficult to fund a half-time position,” Atkinson said.
A request was made for North Perth council to consider funding $10,000 a year for the next three years, which Atkinson said has been a critical part of the recruitment committee success. Coun. Dave Ludington voiced his support for the committee’s work, and if there are any other new doctors on the horizon. Atkinson admitted there are no guarantees in physician recruitment, but that the effort needs to continue.
“We’ve done a very good job on branding North Perth as a community where people want to live,” Atkinson said. “It’s not a given that we’ll recruit, but we can’t let down the effort.”
Coun. Warren Howard commended the committee for their recruitment efforts, but compared the committee’s relatively comfortable position to the municipality’s own dire financial straits. Howard added that the municipality tries to avoid ongoing funding commitments.
“No matter how worthy the cause, we really are cautious about committing to ongoing things,” Howard said. “It’s particularly more difficult this year.”
Deputy Mayor Vince Judge felt otherwise, and that council should offer some assistance to attracting new doctors to the community when it is experiencing a shortage.
“I think we have an obligation to the community to do what we can to promote North Perth as a place to be and bring physicians here,” Judge said.
The motion was defeated by a vote of
The issue was revisited during the same meeting two hours later, when Coun. Ken Buchanan expressed some regret for voting against the motion. Buchanan attempted to put the motion back on the floor for reconsideration, but failed to receive a majority vote of council.