Residents of Digby County hope they've found the solution to a revolving door that's seen doctors come and go through the years.
Local MLA Gordon Wilson announced on behalf of the province Thursday that three new doctors will set up in the community in September, joining a collaborative clinic that will also include three nurse practitioners and a new family practice nurse.
Dr. Crystal Todd, head of family practice for the western zone of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, said the collaborative model sets the stage for addressing system shortcomings that have caused doctors to leave in the past.
A need for more support
As part of the recruiting effort, she said, there was extensive consultation with doctors who had worked in the area but did not stay.
"Probably the biggest takeaway is we have to be careful to continually support those doctors," said Todd.
"There needs to be a team. They have to feel that there's someone they can talk to, someone they can lean on, someone that ensures they don't have to work 24 hours a day, that they don't have to work without a vacation."
While recruitment is a constant challenge, retention has proved to be perhaps an even bigger issue.
The collaborative model should help, but the area's warden said the community will also play a role in convincing the doctors to stick around when their three-year contracts end.
"We have to make these people feel a part of the fabric of the community," said Jimmy MacAlpine. "We want to find out what their interests are, we want to have them engaged in the community."
Although the clinic is located in Digby, the doctors will also do work at satellite clinics in other parts of the county, such as Weymouth.
Weymouth resident Allan Boudreau was glad there was an announcement, but he's reserving judgment on whether it will address the needs of the thousands of people in his community who are without a doctor.
Boudreau is part of a group that's pushed to keep service in the Weymouth area since the community's only doctor retired in 2015. The provincial health authority said the new clinic in Digby would be able to serve 10,000 people, but a spokesman could not say how many of those would be new patients who currently do not have a doctor.
"We in Weymouth are quite skeptical that it will meet our needs," said Boudreau.
"Anything will be better than what we have now … [But] it seems to me there is not going to be a lot left for the outlying areas like Weymouth, Bear River [and] Digby Neck."
Digby's No. 1 issue
MacAlpine, who represents Bear River on Digby municipal council, said he understands Boudreau's concerns. But as the way medical care is delivered changes, so too must people's expectations, he said.
"I'm going to say that I think this is going to work for us," he said. "Health care is the No. 1 issue we face here."
Thursday's announcement is a good news story for everyone, said MacAlpine. It will be up to all of them now, he said, to make sure the story has a happy ending.