Over the past number of weeks there have been several family doctors who have announced they are retiring or closing their practices here in Orléans.
Late last year I had to opportunity to meet with the President of the Ontario Medical Association, Dr. Rose Zacharias, to discuss the healthcare crisis and how we can address the family doctor shortages in Orléans. Dr. Zacharias informed me that lack of access to family doctors is not just an Orléans problem, but a crisis across the province. She stated that one million residents in Ontario do not have access to a family doctor, which needs to be addressed immediately.
Family doctors are effectively independent small businesses. That is to say, despite all of us paying for the service with our OHIP Card, doctors offices run like any other small business. They are incorporated, they incur all of the administrative costs for things like rent, staffing, insurance, equipment etc…For many practices these costs have gone up enormously over the past few years, the administrative requirements have become greater, while what they can bill to the government for reimbursement has not. So many are making the decision to either retire early or move to other situations where the administrative burden is less.
As part of the opposition, my job is to help identify problems, recommend options to help solve them, and stand up for my constituents.
To this end, one solution that has recently been floated is the creation of a Community Health Centre for East Ottawa. Community Health Centres offer a variety of frontline healthcare services, paid for through the public system. But the healthcare professionals who work there, including doctors, are not compensated through the traditional fee for service model but are rather salaried. Moreover, the administration for the centre is handled by professionals and not the responsibility of the physicians. This relieves them of the administrative burden, allowing them to place more of their attention on what they love and are trained to do: care for us.
If we can access frontline healthcare, then this will save the system money over the long term. Issues will be addressed earlier, leading to less money spent down the road on surgeries or treatments and ultimately better health for all of us.
I have recently met with a not-for-profit group who is interested in pursuing this idea for East Ottawa and will be working with them to present a case to the government for this investment.
There is also an important role the City of Ottawa can play. Family medical practices must be considered as part of the City’s Economic Development Strategy and should be considered when making decisions about urban expansion and the conversion of land to residential use.
As an example, the City of Kingston has created their Family Physician Recruitment Incentive Program which has garnered early results attracting 9 new doctors to the community. Kingston is a community comparable to Orléans so there is no reason to believe a similar program from the City of Ottawa could not be successful here.
I will continue to pressure the government to invest more in the public system, to protect our universal access and come up with ways for us to have access to the primary health care family doctors provide and that we need to stay in good health.