A physician recruitment strategy has been created to bring more doctors to north Simcoe and avoid a healthcare crisis.

“If we did nothing we would put about 14,000 people in our community at risk,” said David Gravelle, physician recruitment and retention officer for Southern Georgian Bay. “That is where we were back in 2006 and we don’t want to go through that again.”

Gravelle was hired in 2006 when nearly one-third of the community did not have a family doctor. He successfully implemented a recruitment strategy and has brought 35 family physicians to the region over the last decade.

“We have been extremely successful from the family physician perspective,” said Gravelle, who’s currently focused on trying to avoid another crisis.

Gravelle detailed the problem facing the region’s healthcare system and asked for financial assistance when he addressed Penetanguishene council on March 27.

“We have eight to 12 physicians that need to be recruited,” said Gravelle, noting that a number of doctors in the community are nearing retirement.

“Our priority is looking for people who want to take care of the elderly, who are interested in working at our hospital as well as in the community and who are interested in teaching and leadership.”

In 2017/2018 a steering committee took an in-depth look at the local physician recruitment program and came up with a new strategy to move forward with.

The old plan included a ton of incentives for physicians including a free community visit, $20,000 for a two-year commitment and up to an $8,000 relocation reimbursement, along with a welcome package from local businesses.

“In 2013, after polling our new physicians we determined that the reason they came was not financial, so we eliminated incentives,” said Gravelle.

The new strategy is a five-pronged approach which consists of recruitment through education, peer to peer recruitment, traditional recruitment, relationship development and use of online/social media.

“We have worked really hard behind the scenes in making this area a premier rural academic training site in Ontario,” said Gravelle, noting they have great relationships with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine and the University of Toronto.

Gravelle believes $74,500 is needed to sustain the program from 2019 to 2022. Funding is earmarked to come from a variety of sources with the local municipalities being asked for $40,000. Of that, Midland would contribute $14,000, Penetanguishene $8,500, Tiny and Tay $7,500 each and $2,500 from Springwater.

According to the plan, the rest of the funding would come from Midland Rotary ($10,000), the Rural Ontario Medicine Program ($4,500), the Northern Ontario School of Medicine ($5,000) and reserves ($15,000).

According to Gravelle, Penetanguishene Tiny and Tay have a leg up on Midland. The province supports physicians who set up practices in rural Ontario through the Northern Ontario Rural Recruitment and Retention Initiative. Under their criteria, Midland doesn’t qualify for funding.

“A physician setting up a full-time practice in Penetanguishene will get $80,000 over four years in taxable bonuses from the government. That same doctor practicing in Midland gets nothing,” said Gravelle.