Although the situation is improving, Brantford is still struggling with a shortage of family physicians.
And because about 20% of the family doctors currently practising in the Brant area are over age 65, that predicament is expected to continue, at least for the next few years.
“We are going to need a significant number of replacements,” said John Bradford, chairman of the community physician recruitment committee. “We are working feverishly to solve the problem.
“I expect that for the next five to seven years we will continue to be short. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.”
Back in 2008, when the recruitment committee was formed, Brant had 24 family physician vacancies and was one of 137 communities listed as underserviced in Ontario. Across the province, there was a shortage of 766 family physicians.
Today, Bradford estimates the shortage at about five doctors, resulting in the number of local residents looking for a family physician at between 7,000 and 9,600. The situation is more acute in Brant County, which is still considered severely underserviced.
Bradford believes many of the doctors continuing to work past what is considered the usual retirement age are doing so because they don’t want to leave their patients “orphans,” without a primary provider overseeing their care.
Bradford said there is no way of knowing exactly when those doctors will retire. Some of them have rosters of up to 3,000 patients.
Younger doctors, he said, are more interested in a work-life balance, so new fee models were created, setting the patient-to-doctor ratio at 1,350 to one.
“Every time a senior doctor retires we need two doctors to replace them,” said Bradford. “We will probably need another 10 doctors here over the next year.”
The physician recruitment committee was formed to assist in making Brant attractive, not only to family doctors and specialists, but other health-care professionals and support workers.
Efforts are made to promote the community’s high quality of life and small-town atmosphere, said Bradford. Physicians are also attracted to the state-of-the-art technology at Brantford General Hospital.
Between May 2008 and August 2014, 35 family physicians and 29 specialists were recruited. In addition, nine “hospitalists” were also brought on board. These are physicians whose primary focus is the general medical care of hospitalized patients.
Alice Preston, the physician recruiter for the Brant Community Healthcare System, attends recruitment fairs across North America touting Brant. Efforts are made to promote the region through advertising and marketing material.
There has also been an increase in medical bursaries to support local students – currently $12,000 annually for medical students and $8,000 for nursing students.
While the search for family doctors continues, residents’ health-care needs are being met at three new walk-in clinics that have opened in Brantford over the past few months. The city had been without an after-hours clinic since 2013 when clinics opened in June on Charing Cross Street, on Colborne Street West, and on Fairview Drive.
Dr. Ivan Shcherbatykh and his wife, Dr. Julia Shcherbatykh, opened their own practices and an after-hours clinic on Charing Cross Street on June 12.
Ivan Shcherbatykh said they have been busy since the first day, typically seeing 20 patients in the three hours they are open in the evenings and 15 to 20 on Saturdays.
“Most of the patients say they don’t have a family doctor,” said Shcherbatykh. “Many of their doctors retired or moved away. Some of them come from Simcoe, Waterford, Paris or Woodstock.
“We see a number of patients who didn’t have a GP for several or more years. Most of these people went to ER or Willett to get treated or have medications refilled.”
Shcherbatykh said attracting to new doctors to the area is “all about incentives” offered to graduates by all levels of government.
He said he would like to hire a nurse practitioner to help out at the after-hours clinic but was told by the Ministry of Health there is currently no financial assistance available to do that.
“Provincial or local government could do a lot for the community if they hired a few nurse practitioners or physician assistants to help busy family doctors. Any incentives that can cut down on overhead expenses for family doctors and provide paid positions for other health-care professionals can really make a difference and either attract new doctors to the Brantford area or help existing doctors care for more patients.”