Hamilton Family Health Team says Hamilton Needs 60 more Family Doctors

CBC News published an article on October 17, 2023

By Bobby Hristova 

Hamilton Family Health Team and others seeking $22M grant to expand health care in Hamilton and nearby areas.

Hamilton needs 60 more family doctors to ensure everyone in the city has one, according to the Hamilton Family Health Team (HFHT).

"We are really concerned ... that's what keeps us up at night," Gloria Jordan, HFHT chief executive officer, told CBC Hamilton.

The city's shortage has worsened since last year, when Hamilton was short by roughly 50 doctors.

The shortage, HFHT says, disproportionately impacts marginalized communities

There are a range of factors behind the shortage, which is playing out across Canada.

Dr. Brian McKenna, HFHT's lead physician, said one of the main reasons is a lack of interest from medical students — an even bigger problem when considering the city's population is expected to keep growing and patients are dealing with more chronic conditions than before.

Jordan also said primary care staff need better pay.

Brad van den Heuvel, a recruitment specialist with Hamilton Physicians at the David Braley Health Sciences Centre, said in an interview last year cities are competing for family doctors, not enough family medicine residents are getting training in Ontario and younger doctors may want a better work-life balance.

McKenna said the health-care system also needs to change.

"We have a very hospital-led, hospital-prioritizing health-care system and we know there needs to be equivalent emphasis ... toward building that for community care as well," he said.

"We need to move beyond just the family doctor's offices that are very much fending for themselves."

Provincial grant could grow Hamilton health care

The Greater Hamilton Health Network, a network that includes HFHT, applied for a provincial grant earlier this year to expand the team-based model HFHT uses.

The way the model works is a patient meets with their family doctor and the family doctor will connect them to other levels of in-house health care as needed.

For example, HFHT patients can access mental health care for free. HFHT is also the largest health team in the province and accounts for roughly half of Hamilton's family doctors.

The model impressed the federal government, spurring former Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett to meet with Jordan in January to learn about the model.

A briefing note prepared for Bennett obtained by CBC Hamilton through a freedom of information request shows the federal government sees team-based models as a "critical" way to improve primary care and reduce visits to the hospital.

It also described HFHT's work as "incredibly transformative" and had Bennett probe about how HFHT incorporates mental health care into its model.

HFHT made two recommendations, saying all Canadians should have access to team-based care and mental health services should be integrated into family practice.

While the federal government never followed up with HFHT, the team is hoping to get the provincial grant.

The Hamilton Family Health Team said roughly 60,000 people in the city don't have a family doctor. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The Greater Hamilton Health Network is asking for $22 million to expand across Hamilton, Haldimand County and Niagara Region.

That would include opening a newcomer health program, a high-risk school-based program, a trans care clinic and a program for new parents, babies and women.

They would also hire numerous roles ranging from nurses to youth workers to administrative staff.

The province will decide who gets the grant in the fall.

Health sectors need to come together

Jordan and McKenna said different parts of the health-care sector have to come together to tackle the growing health-care problems in communities.

More support from all levels of government would help, too.

"I'd love to see a greater focus of health in its broadest sense for our community," Jordan said.

"We're seeing an incredible need for us to come together … how we've been doing this is not going to address the needs."

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