New strategies are being implemented in an attempt to attract more doctors to Hay River.
The strategies were outlined at a Nov. 7 public forum hosted by the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority.
For one thing, Erin Griffiths, the CEO of the health authority, said the organization is participating in an NWT workforce review with the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority (NTHSSA).
“What we’re doing is taking inventory on who we currently have as a territories’ medical team, who we need, what the current demand is and looking at future state,” she said.
The Hay River Health and Social Services Authority is a stand-alone entity, and is not part of the territorial public service and is outside the NTHSSA, although it is funded by the GNWT.
Griffiths noted that the Hay River authority is currently funded for five physicians.
“So we’re really excited to be part of this planning because the health authority believes that five is just not enough anymore to serve the demand of our region,” she said.
Griffiths also pointed out that, in September, the local health authority signed an agreement with the NTHSSA for assistance with physician recruitment.
“As of September, they have now taken the lead in collaboration with us to recruit physicians for Hay River,” she said, explaining that the agreement puts Hay River in territorial medical pools of permanent physicians and locums.
Griffiths said that is “incredibly positive” because the larger health authority has a dedicated physician recruitment department with the resources and professionals to help Hay River.
In addition, Griffiths noted that, as of September, Dr. Bing Guthrie of Yellowknife is the NWT’s southern area medical director, which includes Hay River, the Deh Cho and the Fort Smith region.
“We’re really excited to have Dr. Guthrie back on board with us,” she said, noting he has supported the authority for the past couple of years as a general practitioner at the medical clinic and also in the emergency room.
“He will be travelling down to support us in person on a monthly basis,” she said.
Griffiths added Guthrie is also a critical part of the agreement with the NTHSSA for assistance with physician recruitment.
Plus, the Hay River authority is working with Practice NWT, which is an initiative of the Department of Health and Social Services to help find medical professionals through advertising, conferences and recruiting fairs across Canada.
Brian Willows, the public administrator with the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority, said the “significant changes” in the last two months that should help with recruiting.
“That being said, I’m not going to sit here and tell you we are going to be fully staffed with physicians on a go-forward basis,” he said. “I can’t do that because I don’t know that to be true, because we do suffer from the same things that everyone else does across this country and that is a shortage of physicians. So we’re competing for the same people.”
Willows said physicians have to decide they want to come to the North, they want to live in the North, and they want to have a northern experience.
“We have had those people in the past and we will continue trying to recruit to them,” he said. “So that’s always going to be a challenge for us.”
Willows said it is big news that Guthrie is the new medical director for the South Slave.
“He is committed to helping us recruit. He is committed to rebuild the team. So we hope to see some improvement,” said the public administrator. “And I’m just asking the public to give us some space to try to improve things, because it’s a restart button. We’re trying a whole bunch of new initiatives in order to improve the quality of care that we’re delivering here in the community.”
Willows did note that the authority is fully staffed with nurses.
A person at the forum asked why it is so difficult to attract doctors to Hay River.
“It’s personal choice,” said Griffiths. “What we tend to attract for physicians, and I think for professionals as well, is young new grads.”
The CEO explained that those new grads may come North for a few years and pay off student loans, but when they want to settle down, be closer to family or specialize that mostly means heading back south.
“So our young grads that we do attract are great for the short term, but to settle down in Hay River is really challenging for them because they are far from home,” she said.
Griffiths noted Hay River also attracts seasoned physicians as locums, who want to retire from private practice but are not ready to retire completely from medicine.
Currently, the health authority has one permanent physician on staff, while the other four funded positions are filled by locums.
“Unfortunately, we’re in the sixth month of a shortage,” said Griffiths. “We haven’t had five physicians for quite a while.”
The community has averaged three permanent physicians over the past five years.
Hay River is also funded for one nurse-practitioner, a position which is filled by locums.