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New recruits avert doctor shortage in Manitouwadge

Community had faced prospect of no resident doctors, with recruitment increasingly challenging.
Manitouwadge
(Town of Manitouwadge photo)

MANITOUWADGE -- Two doctors are now officially signed on to work in the town of Manitouwadge, resolving a potential crisis after the community of just under 2,000 faced the prospect of having no resident physicians.

Santé Manitouwadge Health was scrambling to find replacements in August after it announced the departure of its final full-time, permanent doctor.

The community, located about 260 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, is now celebrating good news after one physician who had been acting as a locum signed on in early September, and another joined last week.

“We’ve had a couple of sleepless nights hoping things would work out – and thankfully, they’ve worked out,” said CEO Debbie Hardy

There were plans to keep the emergency room open with visiting “locum” doctors, but the new recruits had come just in time to avoid major disruption to primary care, she said.

The doctors juggle multiple roles at Santé Manitouwadge Health, offering urgent care and supporting the centre’s nine long-term care beds and one palliative care bed.

They will also run their own private primary care practices, which work alongside the centre’s family health team.

That integrated model has been one selling point for the community when recruiting doctors, Hardy said, alongside the natural beauty of the north and the appeal of a safe, tight-knit community.

"A lot of it is lifestyle, and then it’s look what you can learn – the skills you’re going to have when you leave Manitouwadge," she said.

Attracting health care workers to the north has always been a challenging process, particularly for smaller communities. It’s now also one the health centre finds itself going through more often.

“I’d say it’s changing – in the past we’ve had physicians here up to 10 years,” said Hardy. “But in the [last seven years or so], two to three years seems to be the maximum, and then they’re moving on.”

“COVID didn’t help, because that just gives them absolutely no social life beyond the walls of the facility they’re working in.”

Manitouwadge is designated a three-physician town, and Hardy hopes to eventually recruit a third permanent doctor. In the meantime, locum doctors help meet the additional need.

Around 15 per cent of residents are Francophone, making it an asset, but not a requirement, for doctors to speak French (staff at the clinic can translate if necessary). The centre has always had at least one French-speaking doctor, said Hardy.

One of the new recruits, Dr. Cimona, who trained in South Africa and later practiced in Newfoundland and Labrador, is bilingual, continuing that tradition.

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