More than 1,300 people in Sackville are losing their family doctor
Dr. Cory Long is closing his practice in Sackville, leaving about a quarter of the population without a GP
A busy doctor working in Sackville is closing his practice, leaving about a quarter of the town's population without a family doctor.
People in the New Brunswick town worry this will only compound a growing problem. In June, Horizon Health Network announced that the Sackville Memorial Hospital emergency department would close its doors on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights until at least the end of the summer because of nursing shortages.
Dr. Cory Long's practice has about 1,310 patients, most of whom will be left without a doctor when it closes on Aug. 22.
Long could not be reached for an interview, but in a written statement Dr. Jody Enright, medical director for the Moncton area with Horizon Health, said, "We are actively recruiting to fill this position and currently have some leads. In the meantime, patients may also wish to add their list to the Patient Connect NB registry."
There are currently more than 35,000 people registered with Patient Connect. Some patients have been waiting on the list for years.
Nurse practitioner Angela Tower shares an office space with Long, and she will continue to see her own roster of 850 patients, which includes about 270 she shares with Long.
Fewer family doctors means more patients at the ER
Pat Estabrooks is a former Sackville mayor and co-chair of the Memramcook Tantramar community task force, a group that is working with the Department of Health and Horizon to analyze the challenges at the local hospital.
She said one less doctor means issues at the emergency room will only get worse, because there are no medical clinics in Sackville.
I think right now with the group down to presently six, and when Dr. Long leaves, five members, it's going to be a strain on the group.- Retired Dr. Ross Thomas
"Their only option would be to go to the ER. or see if they can make contact with a doctor who may take them as a patient and, as you know, that's probably an impossibility at this point," said Estabrooks.
She worries about seniors and people with low incomes who can't travel to Moncton when the emergency room is closed, leaving gaps in the system.
"Most of those people cannot do that. "
Filling rural roles takes time
Dr. Ross Thomas, now retired, shared a family practice with his wife, who is also a doctor, for decades in Sackville. He said the town presents unique challenges when it comes to recruiting new doctors.
"It's perhaps not as attractive a location because doctors are expected to do both (emergency room) work as well as family practice," said Thomas.
"Many family physicians and new graduates in particular coming out are not comfortable in the emergency room setting. And if they are, they would prefer to work in a big city where there's more exciting and acute cases going on."
Thomas said the dual emergency room and family practice requirement is a throwback to an earlier era.
But over time, as some doctors were no longer willing or able to work in the emergency department, the number of doctors able to cover the shifts dwindled and the system began to show cracks.
"I think right now with the group down to presently six, and when Dr. Long leaves, five members, it's going to be a strain on the group."
Thomas said other rural communities sometimes rely on larger city hospitals to help staff smaller emergency rooms. And while he said those conversations have been had with the administration at the Moncton Hospital only 50 kilometres away, there's been no change.
"They don't have enough staff to staff their own emergency, especially at present," said Thomas.
While Health networks are responsible for recruitment, Thomas said doctors tend to get involved in the succession process.
When he and his wife started thinking about retiring they notified Horizon Health, who would forward information about potential candidates to them.
He said it took three years to find two doctors, who also turned out to be a couple, to take over the practice.
Enright, at Horizon, confirmed that a doctor had expressed interest in practising in Sackville in 2019, but he was turned away as "there were no vacancies at that time."