By Jaymie L. White
Special to Wreckhouse Press
PORT AUX BASQUES – It is widely recognized that throughout the province there is a significant staffing shortage in the healthcare field. The Southwest coast is certainly no exception.
Roughly two weeks ago, Dr. Tawfik Husni announced that he is retiring and closing his office. This decision took effect on Apr. 15, leaving many patients without a family doctor. But Mayor Brian Button believes that Port Aux Basques remains in a good position when it comes to the number of physicians in the area.
“My latest meetings with the officials here in this area – we still have a contingent of physicians – our physician count is still good. It has maintained and it has been stable. There’s always a little bit of a changeover from bringing in different people that have been at the hospital to help out with the regular family physicians around the community, but that seems to be not too bad. I’ve always asked that when there is stuff going on, changes are happening, to keep up to date. We have really good communication back and forth on that. Everything right now at this point is stable and seems to be okay.”
In response to email inquiries, Western Health released the following statement regarding the closure.
“If a fee-for-service physician is unable to transfer their patients to another fee-for-service physician (e.g., colleague in the same office, a new physician taking over the practice), the physician may notify the regional health authority (RHA) and request support in transferring patients to salaried providers (physicians and nurse practitioners) who work for the RHA. Support of this sort may be provided if salaried providers can accept new patients. Timelines on the transfer of patients would depend on various factors but would generally take a series of weeks to finalize. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of NL has published guidelines on clinic closures to ensure that sufficient planning time is available to offer continuity of care to patients. After receiving notice of clinic closure on April 7, 2022, Western Health will be reaching out to Dr. Husni.”
Mayor Button said that even though the contingent is good in the region for now, Council never loses sight of the fact that it could change.
“You never know what’s going to happen, but I always make it a point that, just this week for example, I have a MUN med student that’s here doing some work in the community. And one of the things that I like to do is I take them around and show them around our community. I show them everything we have to offer,” said Button. “I do that for the simple fact of, when they finish med school, they may want to come to a rural community such as Port Aux Basques and set up. There’s always room for another one and you never know when that need is going to arise.”
Last year the Town of Stephenville, in response to the significant need for physicians and specialists in their region, introduced a recruitment and retention package geared at attracting and retaining general practitioners (GPs) and specialists to the community. The package has begun to see some traction.
Mayor Tom Rose said that the Sir Thomas Roddick Hospital currently has one surgeon there on a locum until July, and the hope is there will be a permanent replacement soon.
“I am hoping by the summer or at least by September he will be here. I’m working also with David Palmer at Western Health and all the different recruiters. They have recruiters for surgeons and specialists, recruiters for salaried physicians, and recruiters for ‘fee for service’ physicians that would work out of a clinic like Dr. McComiskey’s clinic. We’ve got a meeting coming up on the 19th with them, but I’ve been in communication with a surgeon that’s looking at coming to Stephenville, so I’ve got my fingers crossed there.”
Rose is beginning to feel good about the direction the Town is moving in when it comes to healthcare staffing.
“When you start a recruitment program, the challenge is how do you communicate that? Somebody tends not to stop in a heartbeat, because there is such a demand in this country for doctors and specialists. So they’re not easy to get. Just look at the state Newfoundland is in; when one fifth of the population doesn’t have a family doctor.”
Stephenville has also recruited a new family physician, Dr. Al Kinnis, at the private medical clinic, Dr. McComiskey’s clinic, who will take advantage of the recruitment package.
“It’s really designed for people who are permanent full- time, not for locums that are just coming in to fill the void. For example, the surgeon we are so fortunate to have here until the end of July, he wouldn’t qualify for the $50,000 signing bonus and everything because he is just here for a few months. It wouldn’t make sense, but with a new surgeon coming in, he would qualify,” explained Rose.
The perks of the retention package, which total nearly $100,000, is on par with what the provincial government is currently offering to attract family physicians and specialists to the province.
“Stephenville, technically, is matching the province and that’s a pretty big step. We’re fiscally in good shape as a municipality. Council is behind us. Council realizes that a community needs healthcare and citizens need family doctors,” said Rose.
The importance of having a family doctor cannot be overstated according to Rose, and it causes far less stress to be put onto the healthcare system, especially the emergency departments.
“The gravity of why it’s so important to have a family doctor is, a family doctor gets the ability to meet with a patient, diagnose and refer and do all those things they do so well, and when you don’t have a family doctor, sometimes your ailment may get to the severity that you end up at the emergency department and you’re in trouble. That actually escalates the costs of healthcare in the province. The last thing we want is everybody going to the emergency department.”
Western Health issued the following statement in response to email inquiries about West coast physician recruitment initiatives.
“Western Health has a Medical Services department that supports physician recruitment. The Medical Services department uses a variety of recruitment efforts, including direct recruitment of medical students and residents, direct recruitment of Canadian-trained physicians, recruitment of international medical graduates through Practice Ready Assessment – NL, recruitment of international medical graduates through third-party recruiters, position postings on job boards, attendance at recruitment events (virtually and in-person), among other strategies. Recruitment efforts have been successful; however, retention continues to be vital to ensure recruitment is sustained.
“We expect improvements in the Stephenville and the Bay St. George area for residents who are in need of a family doctor. One family physician started practicing in Stephenville in March 2022. An additional family physician is planned to start in May 2022. A locum family physician will also be working in Stephenville for 4-6 months beginning this month. As well, there is another family physician training in the region who is considering a family practice in Stephenville.
“A surgeon began providing locum services at Sir Thomas Roddick Hospital in March 2022 and will be there until July 2022. Western Health continues to recruit to the two vacant general surgery positions in Stephenville. In addition, patients referred for surgical services are also being reviewed by the surgical team at Western Memorial Regional Hospital.
“Additionally, following the announcement of funding for a collaborative care team for the Western region, Western Health has recently submitted to government a proposal for a collaborative care team for the Stephenville/Bay St. George Health Neighbourhood. This collaborative care team would be made up of physicians, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, social workers, social work assistants and a pharmacist. It is hoped that the creation of the new team will aid in recruitment and retention of health professionals and improve access to primary care.
“Western Health actively recruits physicians for all areas that have vacancies. While Port aux Basques (Dr. Charles L. LeGrow Health Centre) and Burgeo (Calder Health Care Centre) do not have salaried physician vacancies, there are opportunities available for fee-for-service physicians in Port aux Basques, for example, which Medical Services also actively recruits. Western Health ensures that all regional vacancies are communicated to prospective physicians to ensure the best match is made for the physician and their desired role.”