Manitoba

22 new doctors a good start but won't eliminate shortage in Interlake, health authority CEO says

More than 20 new doctors are set to serve rural Manitoba communities that faced a doctor shortage earlier this year.

Regional health authority had 31 vacancies out of 84 positions total in May

More than 20 new doctors will serve residents in Manitoba's Interlake area. (CBC)

More than 20 new doctors are set to serve rural Manitoba communities that faced a doctor shortage earlier this year.

Nineteen family physicians and three specialists have started or will soon start work in communities in the Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority, including Stonewall, Selkirk, Gimli and Pine Falls.

A further 12 doctors are expected to be hired next year.

"We're inching closer to where we need to be. But I suspect we're probably going to still be short," said Ron Van Denakker, chief executive officer of the Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority.

In May, the health authority released figures listing 31 vacant family physician positions out of 84 positions total — a vacancy rate of about 37 per cent.

Van Denakker said the hires go a long way to addressing the shortage but don't eliminate it completely. A spokesperson for the health authority told CBC News in an email that there are still 21 open jobs.

"We will not, with these doctors, be able to keep all of our emergency departments open," Van Denakker said.
Ron Van Denakker, CEO of the Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority, said 22 new hires is a good start but doesn't eliminate the area's doctor shortage. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Earlier this month, the emergency room in Selkirk scaled back hours of additional doctors on duty as part of the health region's attempt to cut $7 million in spending.

Van Denakker said the regional health authority has never been so well-staffed in the six years he's been at the helm.

"I think in all fairness what we're trying to do is understand what this is going to have in terms of overall impact," he said. "What I can tell you is it's significantly better than where we have been before."

Moving past 'show me the money': Goertzen

Earlier this year, the Progressive Conservative government axed a grant program for new Manitoba physicians designed to entice doctors to the province.

Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said the health authority sold doctors on the lifestyle, not a higher paycheque.

"We have moved from a time when it used to be all 'show me the money' to 'show me the community,'" Goertzen said at a Wednesday news conference. "I always wondered, why is it that we couldn't have that kind of an approach with the beautiful communities that we have?"

The Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority brought University of Manitoba medical students on a fishing trip in March, including a stop at the Lac du Bonnet, Man., ice-fishing derby. ( Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority)

This year, the regional health authority has treated prospective doctors to a wine and cheese event at the Selkirk Golf and Country Club, hosted a family medicine resident's retreat in the city and took nearly 30 University of Manitoba medical students on an ice-fishing trip.

A dozen of the new physicians are recent graduates, split 50/50 between Canadian and international medical schools, the health authority spokesperson wrote in an email, and an additional two practising physicians were recruited from Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Goertzen said in a news release the authority has done "an extensive amount of work" to recruit the doctors to the area, including developing care teams of physicians, nurses and other primary care providers to collaborate and share responsibilities.

A spokesperson for the health authority said the authority didn't have information about the total amount spent on recruiting doctors last year available.

The Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority hosted a wine and cheese event for prospective doctors in Selkirk, Man., this year. (Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority)

'Opportunity to have a full-spectrum practice'

Dr. Dylan Thompson and his partner are set to start at the Gimli hospital in October. The couple had always intended to work rurally, Thompson said, and chose Gimli after taking day trips to the area, touring the hospital and meeting with local staff.

"They were extremely accommodating and kind, able to give us a wonderful tour of the facilities and we just felt like it was a really good fit," he said.

Family physicians in the area are expected to take occasional shifts in emergency departments and may work longer hours, Thompson said, but that was a plus for him.

Dr. Dylan Thompson and his partner are set to start work at the Gimli Community Health Centre in October. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

"That opportunity to have a full-spectrum practice, offer emergency department coverage, it's something I've always wanted to do in my practice," he said.

Thompson said it's hard to identify a single method to recruit doctors, but it helps to bring them into the area to see it for themselves. 

"A lot of times the physicians will just have to visit the community, see if it works for them," he said. "Sometimes, you know, when there's a good fit, there's just a good fit."

With files from Laura Glowacki

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