County to consider fund to attract more doctors

Adam Bramburger
Beaver Staff

At budget time this year, Lennox and Addington County councillors will consider offering funding for a doctor recruitment initiative.

During council’s regular meeting Jan. 30, councillors heard a request from the University Hospitals Foundation of Kingston (UHKF) for a five-year commitment of $200,000 per year for capital improvements for regional hospitals.

While Greater Napanee Mayor Marg Isbester was supportive of making a donation, she stressed the importance of aiding Lennox and Addington County General Hospital (LACGH) and local patients in need of primary-care doctors.

“Last year when this came up, we didn’t have an ask from our own local hospital and they don’t have a capital ask this year,” she said. “What Lennox and Addington County and the hospital itself really need is physician recruitment.”

Isbester reminded her council colleagues there are many communities across Ontario competing to attract physicians.

Though last fall Greater Napanee was successful in receiving 30-per-cent services from three doctors attracted in a partnership with Hastings County that offered doctors $20,000 per year over five years, Isbester said she’d like to see a venture along county lines.

“This would cover the whole entity — not just Greater Napanee, not just Loyalist, not just Addington Highlands, and not just Stone Mills,” she said. “I think primary care is so important. There are a lot of are doctors are soon going to retire and I think we need to get ahead of the curve. We could have some money that we set aside and take an active part in our own recruitment program.”

Isbester’s request that staff include a grant allotment for physician recruitment as part of budget deliberations was accepted unanimously without further comment.

Speaking with the Beaver after the vote, Isbester said she sat down with LACGH chief of staff Dr. Kim Morrison after last fall’s election to talk about strategy — whether the region should target young doctors, those looking for a lifestyle change from hectic urban areas while still working in a first-class hospital, or otherwise, and how to attract them. From that meeting, Morrison and other stakeholders met with the County’s chief administrative officer, Brenda Orchard, who shared her experience in recruitment.

“We met with a lot of partners and decided we would put it forward to see how it would fly,” Isbester said, adding council will be looking for collaboration between its staff and the hospital’s board to develop a program that’s acceptable and that doesn’t produce a “wickedly high tax increase.” She’s optimistic other councillors share her interest.

“We’re all battling the same thing. Certainly everyone’s in favour, but I don’t think anyone has a dollar value in mind until a report comes back,” she said. “I just want to get the ball rolling. The bidding for doctors is really getting a little bit out of hand. I’m not sure where the root of the problem for attracting physicians to be here is. We have everything to offer, but we’re going against some municipalities that have a lot larger assessment base… the recruitment has been good, but it needs to be even stronger. I’m not going to say there’s a tried and true method but I believe we need to find some way to do this.”

The funding, Isbester said, likely gives each of the lower-tier municipalities more bang for their buck compared to solo recruitment. She also said it’s relevant at the County level because of economic development and also because it administers ambulances and long-term care and suggested the collaboration may look beyond just recruitment to health service delivery models.

Council also referred UHKF’s request to its budget deliberations. Its hospitals — Kingston General Hospital (KGH), Hotel Dieu, and Providence Care, see close to 70,000 patient visits from Lennox and Addington per year and employ 728 people from the county with an economic impact of $48.7 million annually. The average salary of those workers is $67,000.

UHKF’s associate director of major gifts Monica Kahindo said the majority of the funding would be dedicated to a 20-year project to build a new tower at KGH to house expanded emergency and operating rooms, a specialized floor for women’s and children’s health, and expanded, state-of-the-art laboratory  facilities.

“It’s not a secret that our hospitals’ infrastructure is aging,” Kahindo told council. “We need to invest in new technologies and the next phase of redevelopment so that we can update those facilities and provide the highest levels of care.”

Loyalist Mayor Ric Bresee recused himself from the discussion as he is an employee of UHKF.

The first budget meeting is Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 5:30 p.m.

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