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Kentville woman without family doctor wants long-term recruitment, retention plan

Sharon Kehoe of Kentville, who recently lost her family doctor, is concerned that the provincial government isn’t doing enough to recruit and retain family physicians.
Sharon Kehoe of Kentville, who recently lost her family doctor, is concerned that the provincial government isn’t doing enough to recruit and retain family physicians. - Kirk Starratt

KENTVILLE, NS - Losing her doctor has been an eye-opening experience for a Kentville woman and she wants to know what government’s long-term plan is to address the family physician shortage.

Sharon Kehoe of Kentville and her family recently learned that their doctor was closing his New Minas practice only one year after he had taken them on as patients. She said this is the first time the nine members of her family have been in this frustrating situation. They all have some sort of health issue.

Kehoe said she has to pay several hundred dollars to an Ontario company to get access to her family’s health care records. She wonders what those patients who can’t afford the bill will do.

“You don’t realize how vulnerable you are until this happens to you,” Kehoe said.

With four Kings County doctors closing practices since September, there are an estimated 10,000 patients who need a new family physician.

Kehoe said her family and others will have no choice but to take their health concerns to the emergency room or a walk-in clinic. However, she said there is little preventative or follow-up care in this sort of scenario.

“When something is going to be identified, it’s going to be a lot worse than it could have been and more importantly should have been,” Kehoe said.

She said it seems doctors in walk-in clinics are sometimes hesitant to order more extensive tests for patients because they know there is no family doctor to receive and interpret results. Kehoe said her husband has had to insist that his test results are sent to him directly so he can take them to a clinic for review.

She said individuals have a responsibility to manage their own health but there’s no substitute for having a regular, consistent physician that knows your personal health history.

Kehoe believes it must be costing us more as taxpayers having a situation where everyone runs to the emergency room or walk-in clinic with every ailment compared to being treated in a family practice. When it comes to long wait lists for joint replacements, for example, it must be costing more to treat patients over several years as they await surgery than it would if they got into the operating room in short order.

Kehoe wants to know what the long-term vision or strategy is to correct the shortage in terms of recruitment and retention at the family practice level. Kehoe said government should be considering all options.

She wonders why more dedicated, driven students couldn’t be trained to become family doctors. Perhaps if a certain number were educated at no cost with the understanding that they would stay and work in Nova Scotia, we could begin addressing the shortfall.

“Would that kind of a plan work? I don’t know but I know one thing, right now we don’t have a plan and we need one,” Kehoe said.

She understands that we must be prudent and maintain high standards when it comes to recruiting medical professionals internationally but wonders why barriers to this can’t be better mitigated.

Kehoe said she doesn’t blame the doctors for leaving, as she understands that it has a lot to do with being over worked and not realizing the quality of life they envisioned. This underscores the need to examine more closely all recruitment and retention options, including succession plans.

“It can’t be a Band-Aid,” she said. “You’ve got to have a perpetual feed of doctors.”

Kehoe said she could support a tax increase if it would ensure that our Canadian health care model is maintained here and across the country.

Opposition weighs in

Kings-North MLA John Lohr said he wants to see the Liberal government increase efforts to recruit new doctors to Kings County. In a news release, he drew attention to a recent report on health care from Auditor General Michael Pickup.

Lohr said the report shows gaps in the Nova Scotia Health Authority’s doctor resourcing plans, including issues around communicating their plans with the public and prioritizing people on the family doctor wait list that have health issues.

“The Auditor General’s report confirms what we’ve been hearing for months from people like Sharon and her family,” Lohr said. “Nova Scotians who need a doctor are tired of being told to go to the emergency room or walk-in clinic. They want answers from the Liberal government and, more than anything, they want a family doctor.”

In a recent news release from the provincial NDP, leader Gary Burrill pointed out that residents of Halifax, Dartmouth and the Annapolis Valley are over-represented on the province’s family physician waiting list.

As of Nov. 1, there were 39,965 people registered on the waiting list, including 5,106 in Annapolis and Kings counties. The Auditor General’s report shows that the Western Zone, including Annapolis and Kings counties, is in need of 10 doctors.

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