Doctors call on taxpayers to fund incentives

By Jeff Hayward

UXBRIDGE — Asking taxpayers to open their wallets to entice new doctors to come to Uxbridge is the answer to compete with other underserviced municipalities, according to local physicians.

But some, including Uxbridge’s mayor, are completely opposed to that idea.

Township physicians are warning the Uxbridge Cottage Hospital’s emergency room could be in worse shape this summer than last, when an ER staffing shortage was described as a crisis. This year, one doctor is going on maternity leave, another may be returning to school, and vacation time is coming, which will leave the ER severely undertaffed this July, said Uxbridge doctors in a meeting with the Times-Journal Wednesday morning. “As of July 1, there will be five doctors (available for the ER), only one third of the shifts (will be covered),� said Dr. Michael Damus, who noted doctors are trying to cover ER responsibilities while seeing their own patients.

Dr. Damus was joined at the March 12 meeting by Dr. Carlye Jensen, Dr. Brian St. John and Dr. Terry Bryon. They said the Township has to step up to the plate in the form of financial incentives to bring more doctors to the community. “We really have to look at what other communities are offering, when you’re graduating you’re literally getting wooed,â€? said Dr. Jensen. Dr. Bryon added, “If you leave it to the Province (to fix the problem) you’re not going to be competitive… we have to be more self-reliant.â€?

But Uxbridge Mayor Bob Shepherd said dangling a financial carrot in front of the faces of doctors is not the right answer. “I’m strongly opposed to (offering money incentives)… it’s not the Township’s role,â€? he said. He added doctors should be allocated “according to need. I’m categorically and adamantly (opposed) that municipalities should compete for medical services.â€?

The mayor also noted that putting up cash for doctors “would go on the (municipal) tax bill� and impact residents. “This notion that the Township should step up financial remuneration is nonsense.�

Meanwhile, Tracy Evans, president of the Uxbridge Cottage Hospital Foundation, said a $50,000 interest-free loan for doctors new to the community is being offered through the foundation to address the physician shortage. She said the loan does not have to be used for a specific purpose, and can be used to pay off medical school bills or moving costs. Although the goal of the hospital foundation is to help buy needed medical equipment, the doctor shortage “is an area of concern. We’re just trying to help,� said Ms. Evans. To her knowledge, no doctors have yet taken advantage of the loan.

Roger Peirson, chairman of the Uxbridge Physician Recruitment Committee, agreed the Township should not be footing the bill to bring doctors here. “I personally do not believe this is a way the taxpayer should have to spend their money,� he said, adding he is “very frustrated� with the lack of action from the Ministry of Health, despite a petition from thousands of area residents sent to Queen’s Park last year following a community meeting on the ER situation. Mr. Peirson said the slow accreditation process to certify out-of-country doctors to work in Canada, as well as creating more spaces in medical schools, must be addressed. “There’s still thousands of Canadian (students) that have to go overseas to get medical training,� explained Mr. Peirson.

Currently, Uxbridge has 11 physicians, not all of whom work in the ER, and should have at least 14 (one per 1,350 residents). But even if the township has 14 doctors, that doesn’t take into consideration they are working their own practices and the ER and are stretched thin, making the need for additional doctors greater, Mr. Peirson added.

John O’Toole, Durham’s MPP, said Uxbridge is in the same boat as many other small towns and the Province should be upping its contribution to rural community hospitals such as the Cottage Hospital. He acknowledges there is already a bonus in place from the Province, to the tune of about $20,000, for doctors signing up to work in underserviced communities such as Uxbridge. But he said doctors in smaller communities running their own practices and also working the ER should be paid an “on-call fee… there should be special incentives to work in the ER.â€?

Mr. O’Toole also suggested that part of the Cottage Hospital’s “dilemma� could be the fact it’s not part of neighbouring Lakeridge Health Corporation and not in the same Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) area as its parent Markham Stouffville Hospital Corporation, and may be getting lost in the financial fray. LHINs are responsible for funding health service providers in specific areas.

The Uxbridge doctors said the Markham Stouffville Hospital Corporation, which oversees the Uxbridge site, is not in a position to offer incentives. “The hospital’s hands are tied,â€? said Dr. Damus. “The budget has hardly moved… it’s increased less than inflation.â€? Neil Walker, chief operating officer of the Markham Stouffville hospital, said the hospital’s solution to addressing the forecasted staff shortage is “proactive planningâ€?, including arranging for temporary (locum) doctors to cover ER shifts. But no special incentives are being offered to secure temporary help.

“We are moving forward with our current hourly rate,� said Mr. Walker.

Despite the possible summer staff shortage, Mayor Shepherd is confident the Cottage Hospital is not in any danger. “This hospital is not going any place,� he said. “The hospital is flourishing.�

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