| May 21, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - May 21, 2009 Lift on doctor freeze a relief to rural family health teamsby Julie Druker

Dr. Laurel Dempsey of the Verona Medical Centre

The lifting of a controversial hiring freeze placed on family physicians joining primary care practices in the province was rescinded on May 15, to the relief of many rural health teams locally and in Ontario. The Ontario Health Ministry had announced the freeze on April 17.

When announced, the freeze raised concerns for doctors, physician recruiters, and politicians along with new doctors looking to graduate this summer and land themselves new jobs.

Four days after the freeze was announced, the Ontario Medical Association raised its concerns with ministry staff during a meeting and then contacted its members, who had been taken by surprise by the decision.

The reason for the moratorium was unclear. While it had been suggested by some affected by the freeze that the ministry was aiming to look into the high costs of the family models, that reason was never clearly stated; rather it was done for “purely administrative“ reasons.

Dr. Laurel Dempsey, the sole physician at the Verona Medical Centre and the lead physician for the Rural Kingston Family Health Organization, stated at her Verona practice on Friday, “It’s not clear to me what they were trying to do.” She added “I think that the uptake of physicians into the practice models has been quite successful and it may have wound up costing more money than they thought in some places and maybe they were trying to rearrange how that money flows or where it comes from. I really don’t know.”

Regarding the subsequent lifting of the freeze, Dr. Dempsey stated, “My guess is that the reaction from the media certainly helped them to focus their attention on reconsidering the decision.”

Another concern raised was the timing of the freeze, coming as it did when medical teams are actively searching for newly graduating physicians to fill desperately needed positions.

The moratorium on hiring would have made a negative impact on the search for new doctors around Ontario but also in Verona, where a formal and very public campaign was launched months ago and was in full force on Friday, May 15, the day the freeze was lifted.

When she first heard of the freeze Dr. Dempsey stated, “I was concerned because it limited the ability of any practice to engage a new physician and it also limited our ability to engage locum physicians for holiday time. It would have been a serious problem.”

She also stated that the two to four week freeze likely might have continued throughout the entire summer.

The Northbrook Medical Centre is another local practice that might have been negatively affected by the freeze.

Dr. Tobia and his team had asked to join the Rural Kingston Family Health Organization and are interested in developing a family health team application for Northbrook. Before he can make the application he has to be in a patient-enrolled model. He applied to join Verona and though the paper work has been sent in, a moratorium likely would have delayed that application.

The recent lifting of the moratorium was credited to the ministry, which has been said to have acted decisively and quickly to correct the problem.

In Verona the search for a doctor to replace Dempsey, who is looking to retire in the next few years, will continue as planned now that the freeze has been lifted.

Dempsey stated, “We’re still looking for a doctor and we’ve had interest throughout the campaign." She seemed optimistic. “We’ve had wonderful publicity and lots of interest. We‘re waiting for the right person to walk through the door and it’s going to happen. We‘ve talked to two people and I‘m hopeful about one.”

She also highlighted the bigger issues. “Frontenac as a county is trying to make a number of initiatives for sustainability and I think that the provision of medical services is a keystone of sustainability for small communities.”

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