Municipalitlies may withdraw support for doctor recruitment

Barry’s Bay – Just prior to going behind closed doors near the end of last Tuesday’s Madawaska Valley Township council meeting, Mayor Kim Love rang out the death knell for the Joint Municipal Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee. It’s the group of local mayors who have spent nearly $ 1 million over the past several years attempting to recruit and retain physicians in western Renfrew County.

She was responding to an official letter sent to her by Killaloe, Hagarty and Richards Township Mayor Janice Tiedje, notifying Mayor Love it was the intention of Killaloe, Hagarty and Richards to “regretfully advise that they have decided to withdraw” from the Joint Recruitment and Retention Committee, “effective January 1, 2021.”

Mayor Love was short KHR’s decision to withdraw that, “I think they, like many other municipalities, are recognizing that funds are limited; that pressures to maintain core services are intense at this point in time and they are looking at this point to basically remove themselves from the Physician Recruitment Committee.” Mayor Love went on to say KHR did agree to contribute $ 21,000 to the committee for this fiscal year, “a very gracious contribution but they are looking to exit physician recruitment.”

The Physician Recruitment Committee is a joint municipal effort of western Renfrew County mayors and the Township of South Algonquin requiring all of its partners to be engaged, so that by having one member leave at the end of this year, other local mayors are now looking for the exit door as well.

The remaining members of the committee, Mayor Love said, “are having discussions about an exit strategy; because one member wants to leave, I think others are so inclined… mainly due to the pressures that we are experiencing as municipalities on our tax bases and the fact that the province is in the throes of reorganizing health care and how it is delivered. As a committee, we anticipate that the re-organization into Ontario Health Teams will mean that the Ontario Health Team for our area would take on the role of being responsible for physician recruitment.”

She left no doubt she fully expects other local mayors, including herself as mayor of MV Township to exit and dissolve the committee.

“As a committee we are discussing how to exit recruitment and what that will look like, and I will get back to council with more information once we have had a chance to look at that in detail,” she said.”

She said she would provide more specifics once the meeting entered its in-camera stage, which it did so, shortly after her initial comments.

Councillor Ernie Peplinski said it was regretful this was happening.

“But I can understand the financial realities here,” he said.

He expressed a concern about the implications moving forward for St. Francis Memorial Hospital and the Valley Manor long-term care facility.

Mayor Love responded by saying that physician recruitment was not a municipal responsibility

“It is one of those areas where municipalities have entered into it, more as an economic development concern, but the reality is, that it’s not part of our primary mandate.”

She went on to say that the local Physician Recruitment Committee was hoping to hand-off that responsibility to the new Ontario Health Team currently being set up for the local area.

“We’re not saying that physician recruitment isn’t still needed” she said. “We know there are many people in our community who don’t have a family doctor. The need is still urgent but the reality is we’ve invested…I would shutter to guess…but probably close to a million dollars in physician recruitment as a group of municipalities, but we are just finding that we can’t continue to do that.”

By comparison, MV Townships spends nearly a million dollars annually for its OPP policing contract, an expenditure that has been steadily increasing over the years along with other municipal expenses often caused by the province downloading expected taxpayer services without providing fully-matching funding.

“It’s a reality and I think that’s what Killaloe, Richards and Hagarty has come to basically realize and address,” she said.

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Mayor Love expected further announcements from the Joint Recruitment Committee Chair but said she was not free to say anything further in public but would brief council in-camera.

Mayor Love concluded that she expected the Joint Committee on Physician Recruitment and Retention would report shortly on what it had achieved in the past and what it was currently achieving but, she said, “again, I can’t speak to that further in a public, open meeting….until the joint committee is actually able to make announcements.”

TORONTO STAR