By Luke Hendry, The Intelligencer
At a time when many parts of the Quinte region are facing doctor shortages, Prince Edward County is flush. County officials and members of the Prince Edward Family Health Team on Thursday evening introduced six new doctors hired within the last two years: Drs. Sara Arul, Laura Arul, Sarah LeBlanc, Negine Nahiddi, Dr. Dane Chhatwal, and Dr. Tarik Eldjama.
The family health team and municipality formed a doctor-recruitment working group in 2017. Also that year, county council committed $20,000 per year toward recruitment. The partners followed that earlier this year with a recruitment program.
“We are thrilled that these talented doctors have chosen to work and live in our community,” Acting Mayor Dianne O’Brien said in a press release. “Supporting a co-ordinated approach to physician recruitment and retention is a major component of strengthening community health care in Prince Edward County.”
Dr. Sarah LeBlanc’s introduction to the area came while she was a medical student at Queen’s University in Kingston. That led to a year filling in for a local doctor.
“I loved working in the community,” she said in a telephone interview.
“It was an easy choice.”
“A small-town life was what I was seeking,” said LeBlanc, who’s from Carleton Place, west of Ottawa.
“I wanted to work somewhere that had a hospital.”
LeBlanc opened her family practice in September.
“Working here is a joy.
“I took over a wonderful practice from Dr. Lois Russell,” she said. Now retired, Russell and Drs. Kim Haigh, Elizabeth Christie, Don Koval and Cliff Rice received thanks during Thursday’s gathering for their years of service.
Like many new graduates of medical schools, LeBlanc said she likes the working environment of a family health team.
“The majority of us are trained in family health teams, where we have access to a multidisciplinary team,” she said. The group includes nurse practitioners, dietitians and mental health professionals.
“We’re able to provide mutual support in caring for our patients,” LeBlanc said, calling it “really high-quality health care.”
She also works closely with Hospice Prince Edward to provide palliative care.
“Having a very strong home palliative care system in PEC has been a remarkable thing to be a part of,” LeBlanc said.
The family health team’s executive director, Debbie Korzeniowski, said all of its 23 spaces for doctors are now filled. The team’s doctors also work with Quinte Health Care, tending patients at Prince Edward County Memorial Hospital as required in the team’s contract with Ontario’s health ministry, she said.
“At the moment we are continuously building the pipeline for incoming new doctors,” Korzeniowski wrote via e-mail, noting Ontario’s health care workforce is aging.
She said retirements are expected within the next five to seven years and so “we know we cannot stop our efforts” to recruit.
Some areas, including Belleville and Hastings County, offer medical students financial incentives in exchange for several years of medical practice.
Neil Carbone, the county’s director of community development and strategic initiatives, said there are no deals struck with doctors there.
“However, the physician recruitment and retention committee has earmarked up to $10,000 to help offset the cost of setting up a practice once the physician has made a permanent commitment to practice here,” he said via e-mail. It’s intended to cover such things as moving costs, initial office overhead or temporary accommodation.
Carbone said the “relatively small amount is more of a gesture of support” than an incentive and the working group is not “focusing on incentives as a key means of attraction.”
The family health team’s reputation and the county’s amenities, the relationship with Quinte Health Care and its quality of life mean it is “already attractive” to family doctors, he added.
The family health team and county are now trying to streamline the recruitment process. Details are online at www.thecounty.ca/docs.