Couple's South Shore retirement dream on the rocks due to doctor shortage

At least one South Shore Nova Scotia mayor worries the family doctor shortage is hurting communities' ability to attract new residents.

Mayor of area worries the family doctor shortage is hurting communities' ability to attract new residents

Doctor shortages in rural communities could be costing those areas new residents, according to one South Shore mayor. (Shutterstock)

It was a combination of beaches, the ocean and small-town friendliness that made Lois and Fred DuVal dream of retiring to Nova Scotia's South Shore. It's the province's doctor shortage that may derail that dream.

The Toronto residents have made many visits to the province through the years — and not just during the summer. They fell in love with Mahone Bay and the Shore Club in Hubbards, and took out a subscription to the local community weekly newspaper to help do their homework.

And that's how they first learned of the problems people here have finding a family doctor.

Not just a Cape Breton problem

"At first, we thought it was restricted to Cape Breton Island," Lois DuVal said in a phone interview from Toronto. "And then we realized that, no, it's not — it's kind of everywhere."

That situation has them rethinking their plans to move here next October following Fred's retirement. They had planned to rent a spot before eventually buying a place to fix up.

"We're on the fence," said DuVal. "One part of us says, 'Take your chances. Go see how it works out. Maybe it's not as bad as they say.' And then there's the practical side of you that says, 'No, that's kind of stupid.'"

It's a sentiment Carolyn Bolivar-Getson has heard before.

The mayor of the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg said the province's doctor shortage is one of the key concerns she hears from people thinking of moving here. 

Just this week she met with a resident who has family wanting to move to the area but won't do it without "access to reliable health care and knowing that they would have a family doctor when they arrived."

Communication is key

Next month, officials with the Nova Scotia Health Authority will meet with municipal politicians from the South Shore to talk about plans for family-practice teams.

"I'm excited that they're actually doing this because I think that we are the level of government that's closest to the people and we do hear on a regular basis when people cannot access a family doctor," said Bolivar-Getson.

Communication is key to solving the issue, she said, and if the Health Department or health authority has a plan, it needs to be shared with municipal leaders.

"Because we can help communicate that plan if we know there is one. As a municipality, we're looking to create an environment where families choose to live — not choose to leave. And without a family doctor, residents do do that."

Continuity needed

Duval said she and her husband have no problem waiting for specialists or surgical procedures — she may need a new knee at some point and he may need eye surgery — but they're at a stage in their life where they can't wait years for primary health care, she said.

"You can go to a walk-in clinic, but a lot of times it's continuity that makes a right diagnosis and you don't get that in an emergency department, nor do we want to clog up the system."

About the Author

Michael Gorman

Reporter

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca