| Mar 08, 2007

Feature Article - March 8, 2007

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Feature Article - March 8, 2007

Verona's doctor search - Where are we now?by Inie Platenius

In the next many months, a group of interested Verona community members will start to lay the groundwork for a serious initiative to attract new medical practitioners to the Verona area in preparation for the time when Doctors Dempsey and Townsend are retired (several years hence). This is the second of a series of articles about the things the community needs to consider in their quest for continued excellence of care.


If it weren’t for the spiffy sign and the large parking lot, you could easily mistake the Verona Medical Clinic for a 1960’s country bungalow. Even the back yard, fenced now for Cricket the golden retriever and Griete the Flemish barge dog (or schipperke), adds to the homey feel. But inside, the building is a bustling hub of medical care. In the main floor clinics, Dr. Laurel Dempsey and her team (RN Carolyn Goodberry and Dr. Constance Townsend, a locum who comes in for a couple of days a week), serve about 2400 patients. The bungalow’s second story, which was designed as a residential apartment (and where Doc Day and his family lived for 10 years early in his practice) is now a busy centre for support and counseling - featuring nutritional, psychiatric and social work consultants who offer support and education in everything from spousal abuse to chronic disease management.

That’s not all there is to doctoring in Verona. Our clinic is one of five rural practices (Newburgh, Sharbot Lake, Sydenham and Tamworth are the others) which make up the Rural Kingston Primary Health Care Network. This network serves about 12,000 people, and is one of only five in the province. Patients enrolled to doctors in this network have access to after hours telephone advice service, and holiday coverage; and because these clinics have enhanced computer record keeping, they can offer better coordination of care and medication. This scene is a long way from our idealized collective memory of the all-things-to-all people country doc who dispensed iodine and wisdom from his converted front parlour, but even so, today’s local bedridden and palliative care patients can still receive house calls, both at home and in extended care facilities. And like Dr. Day before her, Dr. Dempsey is a coroner.

Who are the patients? Besides those of us who arrive with the usual seasonal or stepped-on-a-nail complaints, our rural area has a higher than average proportion of seniors and chronic disease patients – particularly heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and arthritis. Our doctors see a lot of patients, particularly children, with poor nutrition. And, largely because of the numbers of seniors and diabetics, foot care is a big issue. We rural patients are spread throughout the countryside, so distance is a factor in treating us. This is one reason (though not the only one) that rural docs are reluctant to do obstetric care. But for all the challenges that our rural care presents, we have been very fortunate to have attracted dedicated doctors who are concerned about the continuity of primary care in our area. These are people who chose to come here, and who remained committed to finding replacements. After nearly 40 years of practice here and a sea of change in the way medical care is delivered, Dr. Day stayed on until he was certain that a committed physician was in place to carry on. In a few years, Dr. Dempsey herself will be retiring, so the search begins all over again to find someone who wants to practice in a rural area. In fact, we need to attract more than one doctor. Our current team is understaffed, and there are a considerable number of people with no family doctor who would receive care here if our clinic weren’t already full. We should be bringing at least two full time equivalent physicians, one nurse practitioner, and one more registered nurse to Verona.

Those of us who love living here find it hard to imagine why a young doctor wouldn’t jump at the chance to move to this quiet, safe, beautiful area. Next week we’ll look at some of the reasons – both real and perceived – that make many graduating students are reluctant to set up in rural areas, and outline some of the things we can do to change that. Then, on March 28 you can come to a public meeting sponsored by the Verona Community Association at the Lions Hall to explore in more detail the steps we can take to make sure that our history of good and dedicated local medical care continues for our children and our grandchildren.

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