VICTORIA, NL — Eastern Health officials acknowledged the fact the Trinity-Conception area has lost a lot of family physicians in the last while. But there’s work happening behind the scenes to address that.
That was among many topics covered in a wide-ranging conversation with municipal leaders at last Thursday’s Conception Bay North Joint Council Meeting. Dr. Peggy Tuttle, chief of staff for rural Avalon, was joined by Ron Johnson, Eastern Health’s vice-president of medical services and chief information officer.
Victoria Deputy Mayor Gord Ash spoke directly on the difficulty people in the area have getting a family doctor. His own doctor retired a few years ago and he hasn’t been able to get a new once since. Ash recently went to a walk-in clinic to request blood work, and the issue of where to send the results came up as he did not have a family doctor.
“That’s putting my health in jeopardy, as well as other people,” he said. “Does Eastern Health actually recruit general practitioners, or just the specialists?”
Tuttle said most health authorities have not traditionally gotten too involved in the recruitment of family doctors.
“But we’ve all come to an agreement (that) we’re all accountable and responsible for the healthcare … and we’re engaging with that now more than we have in the past,” she said.
“We have a big void of family docs in the area — we know that. We’re actively looking at it, and that’s where we go back to the education of the medical students. I know right now we have at least five medical students coming through that in three years, four years, these guys want to come back and practice here for family health. It doesn’t give your fix for right now, but we know that’s coming, because we’re engaging that more.”
Alteen highlighted the importance of Eastern Health’s links to Memorial University’s School of Medicine, which produces 80 graduates annually. He said the hospital in Carbonear has a lot to offer graduates completing their residency.
“We can promote this as a solid secondary site where we can teach medical students and residents, and that’s part of the whole pipeline of getting people to come and practice here as well,” he said.
“We know by statistics and by lots of research that will keep them here, to see this and say this is a great place to work.
“I look at this area and think, you’re close to the city, but I don’t have to live in the city. I can access it if I need it. But I have a nice community to live in with all the amenities you really need to live, and you work in a small facility where you can get things done quicker and you have all of these services.”
Tuttle said students covering almost all professions linked to the health system are coming through places like Carbonear General Hospital, and she’s optimistic that will make a difference down the road.
“You will see the shift in four or five years,” she said. “The more we invest now in these people, the more we’re going to have coming back.”
Alteen noted he was involved as a recruiter on a presentation about family medicine and attracted 80 students from the school. He also suggested there may be a need to hone in on undergraduates and those completing residencies who originally come from rural areas.
“So yes, primary care, family physicians are an important part of it,” Alteen continued. “But at the same time, we want people to do more than just go into an office-based practice. We have long-term care. We have obstetrics … There’s lots of things family medicine can do other than just an office-based practice, but if we work together, we can get both of those needs met.”
Asked about the use of hospital doctors for family walk-in clinics, Tuttle said the demand for them to assist with chemotherapy treatments in Carbonear makes that difficult. However, Alteen suggested the health authority may look at hiring hospital doctors who could handle clinics on the side.
Johnson, who has worked at the hospital in Carbonear for 22 years, said a big part of improving primary healthcare involves engaging communities. He spoke of what has happened in Bonavista, where an advisory council was created to address issues with services in the area. He expects council members and the general public will have an opportunity to attend a meeting with officials from the Office of Public Engagement to discuss health-care services in the area, looking at where they are and perhaps where they need to go.
“We’re finding that working with town councils and people, it helps us understand the types of things that people want,” Johnson said.