For many Kingston, Ont., residents, finding a family doctor these days can be daunting.
There are thousands of patients in the Kingston-area who currently do not have access to a primary healthcare provider and the problem has been building for years.
“Several years ago, Kingston was designated as a non-high needs community. So no new physicians go into the family health organizations,” says Dr. Joy Hataley, chair of district 7 for the Ontario Medical Association in Kingston.
Hataley says the province’s designation is severely flawed in terms of how doctors in the community are counted.
“Our hospitals are now amalgamated and they are all teaching facilities, which means a greater proportion of physicians in our community in Kingston have commitments other than direct patient care,” Hataley says. “They calculate the number as though we were like any other community and therefore the actual patient-physician time we have available for direct patient care is less than calculated by that formula.”
There are varying accounts of how many people don’t have a family doctor. There are estimates from 3,200 to over 33,000 patients. Dr. Hataley puts the figure somewhere in the middle.
According to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, as of Feb. 4, there were 3,256 patients registered with Health Care Connect, a government agency set up to help residents find a family doctor.
“It’s taking now approximately two years to get a family physician through Health Care Connect,” Hataley says. “As a result, many people haven’t even registered there and the estimates now, through the Healthcare Experience Survey, we have about 15,000 patients in Kingston without a family physician.”
“Retirement is taking place at such a rate these days, amongst baby boomer doctors. We simply can’t replace them fast enough,” says Kingston City Coun, Rob Hutchison.
Ten years ago, Hutchison was part of a city hall-led effort to tackle the doctor dilemma. And for a while, the doctor recruitment campaign worked.
Then, in 2015, the province changed Kingston’s designation to a “non-high needs community.”
“Is there a solution? Well, there might be if we can get the designation changed so we can attract more doctors and they can earn the fees they need to be a viable operation or a part of a team,” Hutchison says. “But we have to be able to demonstrate that to the province. We think we can demonstrate that we do not have enough and with the right research we can show that.”
That research is currently underway.
A coalition that includes Hataley, District 7 of the Ontario Medical Association, the City of Kingston and the Chamber of Commerce hopes to give a plan to the province in the next six to 12 months.
“I am confident we will be able to solve the problem moving forward,” Hataley says.
That’s hopeful — but not helpful — for the thousands of frustrated Kingstonians who have critical needs right now.