Support for doctor recruitment penciled in to future county budgets

GUELPH – Wellington County council is prepared to provide financial support for physician recruitment efforts by the Guelph Wellington Ontario Health Team (GWOHT).

In October GWOHT requested ongoing funding of $130,000 annually to be split between the City of Guelph, the Guelph Chamber of Commerce and Wellington County – to initiate a new physician recruitment program. 

In a report presented to the county’s administration, finance and human resources committee, the heath team advocated a cost-sharing approach to support the development of a physician recruitment strategy in Guelph and Wellington that “compliments and augments but doesn’t replace” existing physician recruitment efforts.

“In Wellington County, primary care physicians support hospital care and emergency department (ED) along with many other community activities including oncology clinics, coroner work, long term care, after-hours clinics, surgical programs, and obstetrics,” the health team states in the report.

“Due to retirements and movement out of the community, there are a number of vacant physician positions in the communities we serve leaving a significant number of residents without primary care.”

The report notes there are 166 family physicians providing care in Guelph and Wellington, a region which includes 254,247 OHIP card holders. A total of 52,346 (21%) of those card holders not rostered to a family physician.

At its Oct. 17 meeting, the committee recommended county council approve physician recruitment funding of $43,335 per year for two years contingent on equal support from the City of Guelph and Guelph Chamber of Commerce.

Warden Andy Lennox noted at the Nov. 30 county council meeting that the City of Guelph has included the funding in its 2024 budget.

“We haven’t heard yet in terms of the chamber of commerce,” the warden noted.

Councillor Chris White noted physician recruitment has become increasingly challenging in recent years.

“It’s a real struggle. There’s doctors that are leaving, there’s doctors that want to retire. There’s all kinds of different models of the way doctors are getting paid for the services that they provide,” he pointed out.

“While doctor recruitment may not be specifically a municipal responsibility,” White said, “I know that we’ve done our best funding hospitals because we know how critical they are in our communities.”

White stressed the importance of medical services to creating a viable community.

“Without family doctors you can really hollow out your community,” he stated.

“They’re like schools … If you don’t have doctors in your community, you’ve got a real problem.

“And I think as municipal leaders, we have an obligation to do what we can to support doctor recruitment and our family health team.”

White added, “I think we need to sit down with our family health team and see how the municipalities can support doctor recruitment because, again, this is critical stuff.”

In a report to the administration committee, county CAO Scott Wilson noted the county has not been part of a coordinated physician recruitment effort since 2004, “although there have been some locally-initiated programs.”

The Town of Minto and the Townships of Mapleton and Wellington North each make annual contributions of $10,000 to the health care professional recruitment efforts of their local family health teams.