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Hospital burnout is driving doctors from Fort Frances, mayor says

Newly-elected Fort Frances, Mayor Andrew Hallikas plans on taking full advantage of ROMA delegation with Health Minister Sylvia Jones to ensure their municipalities are heard.
La Verendrye General Hospital in Fort Frances. (Matt Vis,

FORT FRANCES — Mayor Andrew Hallikas is hoping to address recruitment and retention of health care professionals during meetings with provincial officials next week.

The Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference takes place in Toronto next week, and Hallikas said he is looking forward to his delegation with Health Minister Sylvia Jones.

“Our problem is a problem again what many small communities have is a physician shortage, but it’s really more poignant where we are because we are not close to any large urban population centres,” Hallikas said.

Hallikas said people within the Rainy River district need to travel outside their community — some as far as Thunder Bay and Winnipeg — to access some specialized health care services because rural hospitals are not equipped to handle those services.

“We have an aging demographic here in the Rainy River district. We have seniors with medical problems and if we can’t get that dealt with here, it’s difficult for them to get to these centres because some of them no longer drive and there is not really good transportation,” Hallikas said.

Rural hospitals are having trouble retaining permanent medical staff in the area leaving the healthcare sector to employ locums.

The expectations to ensure that adequate healthcare relies on having at least four full-time primary care physicians, a general practitioner, an anesthesiologist, and two general surgeons, Hallikas said.

The mayor also noted that Fort Frances’ La Verendrye General Hospital has no full-time emergency physicians, and that the one general surgeon is leaving the hospital. A third of the population doesn’t have a family physician, he added.

“I think we have 10 primary care positions, but they are overworked,” said Hallikas.

Hallikas added the La Verendrye General Hospital is the only hospital in the district that has the mean to provide specialized medical service; however, staffing issues are creating hardships with the facility as locums are suffering from severe burnout and choosing to leave the area in search of stable employment.

“They don’t have a sustainable work-life balance. So, that just creates burnout and we are going to lose more. In fact, the Emo clinic just recruited a new doctor a year and a half ago and they just lost that person because that person just indicated they had an unsustainable workload," he said. "Rainy River has two doctors and they are both saying that their situation is not sustainable and that they’ve got their letters of resignation already written if the situation doesn’t improve.”

Hallikas acknowledged that the province has a number of programs that help recruit physicians to the rural areas; however, those programs appear to be unfunded or will become obsolete.   

“What we want to make sure is all of the programs that incentivize doctors into the community are given stable funding. Particularly, the one for us is the emergency department locum program because we’re desperate, as are many communities, to have the emergency department kept open. So, we need funding to get these locums in here,” said Hallikas.

However, having funding for locums is only a step in addressing the root problem of balancing a healthy balance between work and life.

“We also need to provide doctors that come here, it’s not like living in other places," he said. 

"It’s a harder workload. You’re isolated. We have to provide them with a reasonable quality of life balance by providing incentivize that make spending time here worthwhile to them.”  

Clint Fleury

About the Author: Clint Fleury

Clint Fleury is a web reporter covering Northwestern Ontario and the Superior North regions.
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