This article appears in the Vicki New Times - coming to a mailbox near you!
New to Kingston and looking for a family doctor? Or maybe you’re a long-time resident whose family doctor is retiring? Good luck!
Try Health Care Connect: their site says “a nurse will search for a doctor or nurse practitioner who is accepting new patients in your community.” But the sympathetic person on the phone told me that in
Kingston the waiting list is two thousand strong and the wait is two years long.
“There’s a changing of the guard,” she told me. “The waiting list is growing all the time. We’re not even in the eye of the storm yet.”
Apparently, doctors are retiring in droves, but the young physicians replacing them don’t want the crushing hours and massive caseloads that a previous generation of doctors was willing to shoulder.
The Kingston Academy of Medicine, a branch of the Ontario Medical Association, offers little comfort on its web site. “Try he Yellow Pages,” it says. “Try showing up at doctors’ offices in person. Call in favours from your friends and family. Submit a resume of your medical health. Do anything it takes to get you noticed. The specifics of such an approach are left to your imagination.”
No one knows how many Kingston residents get by without a GP. The figure may be as low as ten thousand or as high as thirty thousand. Walk-in clinics and hospital emergency departments bear the brunt - and preventive medicine goes out the window.
Former city councillor and aspiring mayor Vicki Schmolka says doctor shortage is coming up all the time as she canvasses: “The very first person I met going door-to-door said her biggest concern was not having a family doctor. She has not had one for three years. Another person said it was ten years. One man, recently retired from the military, said that once you leave you lose access to all the medical personnel. He was not happy.”
Hersh Sehdev, long-time executive director of Kingston Community Health Centres and now chair of the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), stresses that the doctor shortage is an extremely complicated issue. Is Kingston an under-serviced area, or not?
The Ministry of Health issues licences based on population. Sounds fair, but many Kingston physicians also teach and do research at Queens, work for Corrections Canada or the military. They get a licence although they don’t carry a full patient load.
“There is no magic wand, no simple solution,” Sehdev says.
Jeff Gouveia, who now manages a medical clinic in Kingston, looks back on his time as a family doctor recruiter here some nine years ago. Hired by the city on a contract basis, he and another recruiter drew thirty-six family doctors to the city over the course of five years.
“We did have things under control,” he says. “Recruiters can act as agents who can inform physicians – including young graduates from Queen’s -- where the opportunities are in Kingston and even connect
the young doctors’ partners with their interests or career aspirations.
I put the question to Vicki Schmolka: “If elected mayor, what would you do about the doctor shortage?”
“I would go back,” she said, “to having a recruiter. I would work with the LHIN and the provincial government to get the proper designation for Kingston to account for Queen's medical teachers, the military, and the prisons. We can do better for patients in Kingston. A lot better.”