Hundreds of Ontario doctors have come out of retirement or offered to redeploy during pandemic

According to numbers provided to CBC Toronto from the Canadian Medical Protective Association, at least 93 doctors in Ontario who had retired or taken a form of leave, returned to work in direct response to the pandemic. Hundreds more have offered to redeploy to where they're needed.

'You can’t just sit there and twiddle your thumbs while Rome burns,' a retired doctor says

Paramedics rush an intubated and ventilated patient into St.Michael's Hospital in Toronto on April 2, 2020. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

In mid-February, Dr. Barb Loiskandl decided to retire from her family practice that she ran with her husband for 32 years, but the novel coronavirus changed all that in a big hurry.

Just four weeks into her new life, as the number of COVID-19 cases started to rise and a pandemic was declared, she decided it was time to go back to work.

"There was a need and we could help fill it," Loiskandl told CBC News.

"It's just a time that we have to sort of back up our brothers and sisters in order to provide support."

Loiskandl is now working for Telehealth Ontario, the province's medical advice hotline, twice a week. In addition, she's stepping back into her old family practice to see her former patients daily through virtual appointments. 

She is one of hundreds of physicians in Ontario who have either come out of retirement, or shifted their work to accommodate a need during the pandemic.

Dr. Barb Loiskandl retired in mid-February from her family practice in Midland, Ont. Less than a month later she decided it was time to go back to work to help battle the COVID-19 pandemic. (Barb Loiskandl)

According to numbers provided to CBC Toronto from the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA)  at least 93 doctors in Ontario, who had retired or taken a form of leave, returned to work in direct response to the pandemic.

The Ontario Medical Association (OMA) says nearly 2,000 doctors have also signed up with an app that redeploys them to facilities that need help. 

Expediting the process

The CMPA offers medical liability protection for doctors who are part of its membership. Many retired physicians or those not practising are no longer members.

"We've created a special category for these retired physicians to come back and to be able to use the humanitarian type of work category," said Dr. Todd Watkins, associate executive director at the CMPA.

That category — typically reserved for overseas work — allows for doctors' memberships to be restored faster and for doctors to get back to work more quickly.

Dr. Todd Watkins with the Canadian Medical Protective Association says the organization has expedited the process for physicians looking to regain their membership to work during the pandemic. (Canadian Medical Protective Association)

"Somewhere between 350-400 physicians [across Canada]  have registered with us to be protected and these physicians are most likely coming out of retirement to do so," said Watkins, who explained that number could also include doctors on leave. 

Of that, 93 are physicians in Ontario. 

"The physicians that are coming out of retirement and changing their practice in order to respond is really their feeling of a call to action."

'It's kind of like Uber for doctors'

Currently practising physicians are also answering the call to step up during the COVID-19 crisis. According to the OMA, approximately 1,937 doctors have signed up for an online app called Bookjane that pairs them with hospitals or clinics where their services are needed.

"It's kind of like Uber for doctors," explained Dr. Sohail Gandhi, the OMA president. He added that a wide range of clinicians, from cardiologists to surgeons and family practitioners, have signed up with the app to be paired with 83 facilities across the province.

Dr. Sohail Gandhi, the president of the Ontario Medical Association, says nearly 2,000 doctors have signed up with the app Bookjane to be deployed where they're needed during the pandemic. (Ontario Medical Association)

"It's an incredible number of doctors, all of whom are saying, 'We know this is a crisis and we want to help out.'"

Whether it's coming out of retirement or shifting into a different role, the common sentiment is not wanting to sit on the sidelines while their peers need help.

"I saw what was happening in Italy and New York, and I thought health-care workers are going to start getting sick. They're going to need people to move in," said Dr. Allyn Walsh, a retired family physician who has picked up shifts at her former clinic.

"When you have some skills and some training, you can't just sort of sit there and twiddle your thumbs while Rome burns."

Dr. Allyn Walsh, pictured on the day of her retirement 18 months ago, decided a few weeks ago it was time to come back to work after hearing stories about the extent of the pandemic in other countries. (Allyn Walsh)


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