Kenora doctor leaves practice to advocate for better healthcare in northern Ontario

It may seem counter-intuitive, but Dr. Lisa Habermehl of Kenora, Ont., hopes to improve patient care by leaving her practice.

Physician will work closely with Ontario Medical Association to further health care in the north

Dr. Lisa Habermehl decided to close her practice in Kenora, Ont., as she feels more advocating for patients is needed from northwestern Ontario. (Dr. Lisa Habermehl/Twitter)

It may seem counter-intuitive, but Dr. Lisa Habermehl of Kenora, Ont., hopes to improve patient care by leaving her practice.

"We hit a proverbial wall, in terms of our ability to continue to wait for somebody new to come and join us, so we had to make the difficult decision to close the practice," she said, referring to her efforts to recruit additional doctors to share the workload. 

Habermehl said she believes she can be more effective in working with the Ontario Medical Association by advocating for rural and northern areas. She will continue to practice in nearby Red Lake, Ont., for a portion of the year.

Habermehl said she opened up a practice in Kenora approximately six years ago, with the intention of bringing in more physicians to grow the practice, but also to keep a sustainable workload. Unfortunately, recruiting other new physicians proved to be impossible.

"To make sure that I don't over commit myself, so I am accessible. Our general practice in the office was that people could have an appointment within 48 hours of needing it. We were also doing palliative care and homecare, home visits, a substantial number of home visits relative to the size of the practice."

Habermehl said deciding to close up her general practice was the most difficult decision she has ever made.

She said beside it being difficult to say goodbye to patients, doctors are generally self-employed, and business decisions have to be made.

While recruitment should be a priority, as it is in Kenora, she said,  "I think you really need recruitment and retention to go hand in hand."

Habermehl said as part of their schooling, physicians need to start learning about the opportunities and challenges of working in northern communities.

"If we start focusing on the generalist physician, family doctors who really can do what the country doctors do, and underscore the importance of that, and how it's good for the system."

Although she has left her practice, for now, Habermehl said she doesn't rule out going back to work as a general practitioner. She does want to see changes before leaping back into the day-to-day medical grind.

"That redundancy that we need in staffing that helps make sure we have the thing that everyone talks about, which is a work/life balance, is really important too going forward. And, I think Kenora's the place that's going to be able to do it, going forward."

About the Author

Jeff Walters

Reporter/Editor

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Jeff is proud to work in his hometown, as well as throughout northwestern Ontario. Away from work, you can find him skiing (on water or snow), curling, out at the lake or flying.

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