2 doctors go it alone to tackle community health in northern New Brunswick

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2 doctors go it alone to tackle community health in northern New Brunswick

Two doctors in northern New Brunswick have left the medical network of hospitals and appointments to work at a more grassroots level, and feel they're having a bigger impact serving the public.

Samuel Daigle, a popular family physician in Bathurst, even made recommendations to the Vitalité Health Network and offered to act as a community liaison, but he says he was ignored.

"A lot of people are thinking I'm running away from the system or running out of medicine," said Daigle, named one of Canada's top doctors by the College of Family Physicians of Canada in 2016.

"I felt I wasn't fitting very well in the system. My values didn't go along with what the system was asking of us. I felt I can achieve more in terms of impact on wellness in my population by doing something else."

Daigle is launching an adventure tour company with his wife "to get people outdoors," and works as a city councillor in Bathurst. He is credited with helping to revive a green trail system in the Chaleur region.

New focus

In addition to wanting to focus on impacting wellness and holistic healthy living in the region, Daigle felt a pull away from family medicine due to the current funding structure.

"Family physicians are not necessarily rewarded for good results. Financially speaking, we're paid by how many patients we see, labelling and treating diseases, and seeing more and more patients," he said, sitting in his woodworking workshop on a weekday afternoon.

"Sometimes I wish we could just sit down in the office and address wellness globally without putting labels. A pain is not always a disease."

Daigle suggested to his superiors at Vitalité that he act as a liaison between the hospital and the community.

"I offered with a small budget to go into the communities like Beresford, Rovertville, and talk to communities about choosing wisely, for example," he said.

To date, he has received no concrete response.

"I'm still waiting. There's a lot of nods saying yes, makes sense, great initiative, but no money seems to be ordered for that and no one seems to be extremely interested." 

Vitalité spokesperson Thomas Lizotte responded by email to CBC News question as to why Daigle had not heard anything.

"Our 2017-2020 Strategic Plan includes a section about Increasing health promotion programs with more intersectorial collaboration,thereby marking our great interest in promoting health in all communities.

"That being said, when the time comes to implement an action plan, all the support and knowledge from Dr. Daigle and others like him will certainly be considered." 

Caraquet doctor echoes: change is needed

"Numbers show there is a big return on investment when you work on promoting instead of just treating," said Dr. Linda Dalpé, an oncology doctor turned community organizer.

"We'll always need hospitals but we can't just be in hospitals. We need to work more upstream and tackle all the social determinants of health."

Dalpé, who worked in palliative care and oncology for 15 years, was experiencing compassion fatigue and frustration seeing the "the causes of the cause of being there, and what could be done, and what's not available."

She quit her "day job" three years ago.

She now works closely with Club Plein Air in Caraquet, a cross-country ski and outdoor club, and has been involved in several community health campaigns, like installing a BenchFit outdoor exercise park in the town, and enhancing the nutrition of school cafeteria offerings in the Acadian Peninsula.

"I'm reaching more people and different age groups. It's stuff that is sometimes hard to get recognized on paper because you don't have immediate results," said Dalpé.

"But results are there and I see it in the difference in my community in the past years. The environments are better and more health-focused."

Dalpé recently helped launched "Nourissons le sport," an initiative that pushes to have healthy nutrition options in places where children play sports, like arenas and gyms. The group has released four videos – the final video coming in May.

Include everyone

She has focused on low-income populations in much of her work. Club Plein Air now lends its facilities rather than renting them, and the public library in Caraquet offers a rent-a-pass for a week, the way you would rent a book, at low cost.

"There are many families in the Acadian Peninsula who live on low income and we don't want that to stop these families from participating in recreation sport," said Dalpé.

"Medicine is eating real food, moving, getting out there in nature"

Many of Dalpé's and Daigle's issues with the health-care system are universal issues - sedentary lifestyles have set in over the past 30 years, and delivery of health-care services are expensive for the taxpaying population, while prevention is somewhat lower-cost.

"For me it's obvious. Studies have been done on that before," said Daigle."Medicine is eating real food, moving, getting out there in nature."

Both doctors are trying to encourage people in their communities to make simple life changes to improve their health and quality of life.

The problem, according to Dalpé, is that while she was treating acute symptoms, she had no time to address the larger issues in her community.

"There wasn't any option of working part time. It's all or nothing. So not doing any clinical work frees up a lot of time for me to do this work."

Neither doctor plans to return to the  Vitalité Health Network, or traditional practice.