GUYSBOROUGH – The emergency dept. closed sign has been posted at Guysborough Memorial Hospital with increasing frequency in recent months, and the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) announced April 7 that it is prepared to make a bold move to reverse that trend; a move that puts hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table.
The announcement of its doctor recruitment financial incentive program stated, in an effort to alleviate the doctor shortage in the area, $100,000 would be offered for “each new recruited doctor who is willing to sign onto a five-year return of service contract to be a full-time practitioner at one of or both of our two hospitals, Guysborough Memorial Hospital (Guysborough) and/or Eastern Memorial Hospital (Canso).”
While physician recruitment efforts have been underway for years – and continue through local hospital foundations and Nova Scotia Health (NSH), the municipality feels it can no longer wait for those efforts to bear fruit, while the situation steadily worsens.
MODG Warden Vernon Pitts told The Journal on April 8, “We tried various other ways – through our committees, Department of Health and Wellness, through the minister’s office, through our MLA’s office – and we’re not getting any pickup, or we weren’t. Scientifically, if you are doing the same experiment and it turns out the same way and not to your satisfaction, you have to change something going forward and that is exactly what we’ve done.”
Pitts said the decision to offer a large incentive to doctors, with monies for the program coming from the MODG’s operating reserves, was made after lengthy discussions by councillors about the pros and cons of such an approach.
“Creativity is one’s ability to think outside the box and that’s what makes MODG who we are,” said Pitts, adding, “As history will show, we do what has to be done in order to get the job done. This is just another step in that journey. Hopefully, it addresses the situation; if not, we’ll have to come up with another strategy.”
The MODG used a similar financial incentive in the past to successfully recruit nurses to the area and increase the hours of operation for the emergency room at the Eastern Memorial Hospital in Canso. This program for attracting doctors, Pitts said, would be taken off the table when the MODG has secured six, full-time physicians to work between the two hospitals in the municipality.
While most of the reaction to the announcement has been overwhelmingly positive, there is concern that – in taking on a problem that falls under the province’s remit – the MODG could be heading down a slippery slope, encouraging the province to download responsibilities to proactive municipal units.
Pitts countered that concern, “If we leave it up to the province, it’s going to be the same situation we are in now, only it is going to be compounded. Presently, we have one doctor in Guysborough, Dr. Ranjini [Mahendrarajah] – one permanent, full time physician. So, what do we do, wait until we burn her out, then we have no doctors. That’s not our mandate – health care – but if we have to do it, we do it. Our residents – myself included – we have a right to have medical services.
“It breaks my heart every time I drive by that hospital and the emergency room is closed. That makes my blood boil. I am not blaming the doctors for that. If we are going to assign blame, there’s enough blame to go round for everyone, but let’s start with the province here. Step up to the plate, do what you’re supposed to be doing. Don’t have us doing the work for you,” said Pitts.
When asked if he knew of any other municipalities in the province that had employed this strategy to recruit doctors, Pitts said, “To my knowledge, no other municipal unit has done this—yet.”
With the temporary closure list on the NSH website showing no signs of shortening, the MODG may be leading the curve.