By JAYMIE WHITE
Special to The Appalachian
STEPHENVILLE – The town is making its incentive program to attract and retain doctors and nurses more inclusive. Funding was originally approved on Nov. 5 of last year during a council meeting, with the intent being the recruitment of more medical professionals to the area.
The updated motion adopted by Council includes incentives like the lease of a vehicle for two to three years at a cost of up to $1,000 per month, family memberships to any recreational facilities, a $5,000 relocation grant, and up to two $50,000 bursaries for medical students, paid over the course of three to four years, upon commitment to three years of employment at the Sir Thomas Roddick Hospital.
“This first program was a sort of an incentive package telling them that we care and that we need them and their professional medical services,” says Mayor Tom Rose.
The initial program introduced ways to attract doctors and nurses to Stephenville, but Mayor Rose stated that retaining current workers also needs to happen.
“It is okay to attract somebody, to recruit somebody, but equally important is retention and how do you retain who you have,” said Rose. “In Stephenville there have been doctors and specialists that have come here and stayed here, and some come here for a short time and leave, sometimes for bigger centers like Vancouver or Toronto. So, we decided to go with a retention package, mainly for specialists and GPs (General Practitioners) who already work here, but it went further than that to include nurses and nurse practitioners at Sir Thomas Roddick Hospital and Public Health in Stephenville.”
On Thursday, July 29, Council discussed the motion that requested the removal of the requirement that an employee of Western Health would need to have a home address in the town in order to qualify for the retention strategy program incentives. In particular, the discussion centred around the fact that co-workers in the same department do not all currently qualify based on where they live.
“We did the amendment because we wanted to include the full team of specialists. They are a team and work hand in hand in each department, and some doctors and nurses who weren’t living in Stephenville weren’t included in the original program,” says Rose. “We felt they were all worthy of the retention package because they come to work every day and provide such a professional service.”
Also discussed was the excessive stress on our healthcare industry due to a need for more staff, coupled with unforeseen issues that arose during the pandemic, which has put even more strain on the system, current medical staff and residents who don’t have access to a family doctor.
“COVID has created a lot of stressors on everybody, so we wanted to stand out as a municipality in this province because if you were to survey Newfoundland and Labrador, healthcare is probably the number one issue on everyone’s plate,” says Rose. “Not everyone has a family doctor, and why this is more important now than ever is that we just lost a family doctor with a large case load in Stephenville who couldn’t continue for health reasons, and this has created a challenge for our emergency department. It also creates excess strain on people who don’t have or lost their family doctor.”
Although Council agreed with the need to support doctors and nurses in the community, the concern was raised that the taxpayers in Stephenville would be solely responsible for the cost of these grants, and that waiting for assistance from other municipalities may be a safer option.
The mayor clarified that Council has plans to follow up with a written request to the municipalities of Kippens, Stephenville Crossing, St. George’s, and Cape St. George to ask for their contributions to the incentive program.
“We plan to write to the different mayors to ask for their contribution to the retention package. I think it is important for them to show leadership on this file and I would be very disappointed if they didn’t jump on board and help the Town of Stephenville with this very important file,” says Rose.
The contribution for the retention packages is anticipated to be around $200,000 once uptake is completed.