June 25, 2019 2:07 pm
Updated: June 26, 2019 6:47 am

Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce taking the lead on local doctor recruitment

The Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce is taking the lead on recruiting and retaining doctors in the area.

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The Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce has secured funding from provincial and municipal governments to recruit and retain physicians.

About six months ago, the chamber learned that two more anesthesiologists were leaving the Yarmouth Regional Hospital. In response, it created a doctor recruitment task force, seeking funding from the Municipality of the District of Argyle, the Municipality of the District of Yarmouth, the Town of Yarmouth and the province.

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On Tuesday, the provincial Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage announced it would provide $75,000 to the task force over the next three years through the newly created Culture Innovation Fund.

The task force chair, Kerry Muise, says the Municipality of the District of Argyle and the Town of Yarmouth have each committed $20,000 over the next three years, while the Municipality of the District of Yarmouth has promised a percentage of the provincial funding. She says the provincial funding is a “vote of confidence.”

“They really believe in this and they believe communities can do this well,” Muise said.

READ MORE: Hospital shortages ‘add stress,’ potential hours-long trip for expectant moms in Yarmouth, N.S.

The chamber itself is planning to help fund the new recruitment strategy.

“You can’t bring in new workers if you can’t provide them a doctor and you can’t bring in new businesses if there’s a shortage and a crisis,” Muise said.

The task force is hoping to fill a gap in the province’s overall recruitment strategy. While the Nova Scotia Health Authority has its own physician recruiter for the area, that individual is responsible for the entire southwest region, including Kentville, Yarmouth and Bridgewater.

Muise says the focus solely on recruiting doctors is only part of the solution.

“We know there’s also the issue of retention so the doctors that we do have, we need to be paying attention to what their needs are, whether they’re happy, if they’re planning to retire,” she said.

“We need to be checking in on that and tracking that. And the other piece is tracking our students. We need to know, when our kids leave our communities and go to university or med school, what their plans are and try to keep in touch with them and make them feel welcome to come back home.”

WATCH (Feb.1, 2019): Med school grad speaks out about N.S. doctor shortage

The money for the task force will be used to hire a local recruiter, known as a community navigator. Part of their job will also be checking in with the 10 medical residents who are finishing their studies in Yarmouth. Muise believes there’s a good chance some of those physicians will stay long term.

“It’s one of the biggest issues that (Yarmouth) residents have right now is the lack of physicians,” she said.

“We don’t want it to get any worse. There are communities struggling all over Nova Scotia and the country with this issue so we decided that a very personal approach for this area was needed.”

Speaking on behalf of Communities, Culture and Heritage Minister Leo Glavine, Education Minister and Yarmouth MLA Zach Churchill says most of the provincial money will be used “to ensure a welcoming environment here locally.”

“Big challenges we have with doctor recruitment and retention are networks for their kids to get involved with, social opportunities for them, friendships for their spouses and their children,” he said.

“Having this grassroots approach where community members get involved and help establish those networks will really help new physicians coming to areas establish roots.”

READ MORE: Doctors Nova Scotia demand ‘immediate action’ on physician shortages

Muise says the chamber of commerce is already making those things a priority. In the next week, one of the new anesthesiologists hired at the Yarmouth Regional Hospital will be joined by his family from out of the country.

“We’re going to have a van there to pick them up, we’ve arranged temporary housing until they can move into their permanent place and we’re going to make the kids feel welcome,” she said.

“We’ve had dinner with the doctor and we know what his five kids like to do so we’re going to have soccer lessons arranged and things like that so we can help them integrate quickly in the community.”

The Culture Innovation Fund has $200,000 set aside in the 2019-20 provincial budget for grants to support doctor recruitment. Communities need to apply for the funding, and this is the first time a grant has been handed out.

“We’re going to judge success on this if we have more doctors and specialists come to our community, if they feel welcomed and included and they feel part of the community and if they choose to stay,” Churchill said.

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