A taskforce charged with attracting new family doctor to Sarnia-Lambton may have to fold unless additional funding can be found, officials say.
Sarnia and Point Edward are the only municipalities in Lambton County still providing tax dollars to the Physician Recruitment Taskforce of Sarnia-Lambton. The other 10 no longer contribute, with St. Clair Township the latest to withdraw.
The non-profit group will be hard pressed to continue, and it’s local residents who will bear the brunt if it finds more support, said Ron Prior, chair of taskforce’s volunteer board.
It’s hoped the community and service clubs will get behind the cause, he said.
Many current family physicians carry a heavy patient load and are nearing retirement, Prior said.
According to Health Force Ontario, 38% of Sarnia-Lambton physicians are 60 or more, with 72 the average age of retirement. Nineteen general practitioners are age 65 or older and 10 are in their 70s.
The taskforce has a budget of $85,000, which pays for one employee and covers the cost of visiting medical schools and on-site career fairs.
Its other financial support comes from Bluewater Health, Local 1059 of the International Labourers Union, the Sarnia Building and Construction Trades Association, and Sarnia Construction Association members.
The competition for the medical students is intense, with the cost of bringing one new doctor to Sarnia-Lambton estimated at $18,000.
Scholarship funding is also provided on the understanding the doctor will practice in Sarnia-Lambton for a designated period.
“It’s a long recruitment process,” Prior said. “You can’t just pick up the phone.”
Carly Nienhuis, the physician recruitment co-ordinator, said some doctors nearing retirement have caseloads of up to 4,000 patients.
Ontario Health Ministry guidelines suggest new physicians take on 1,380 patients, which means two doctors are needed for each one retiring.
“New doctors want work-life balance. They don’t want to work 14-to-15 hour days,” she said.
About 15,000 Sarnia-Lambton residents don’t have a family physician, with many of them First Nation residents, Nienhuis added.
The taskforce has successfully recruited 24 family physicians since 2001, and all but one stayed.
Bluewater Health also recruits doctors, but only medical specialists. Last week the hospital announced a new internist had joined its professional staff.
Dr. Abdalla Abdalla was trained in Egypt and the United Kingdom and has been an internal medicine specialist in Fort St. John, British Columbia since 2008.
Since 2009, the hospital has recruited 43 doctors.