GUYSBOROUGH – The closed sign has become a more frequent sight on the emergency department at Guysborough Memorial Hospital (GMH) in Guysborough this month. The hospital, which requires a compliment of four full-time physicians, is struggling with only one doctor, who has been supported by locums (temporary physicians) since the spring.
The hospital has not had a full complement of doctors for years, but not for lack of trying. The Guysborough Memorial Hospital Foundation has been actively recruiting physicians but their efforts, as of yet, have not been fruitful.
Bill Innis, chair of the foundation, told The Journal last week that it has been particularly hard to find locums this month. On the topic of physician recruitment he said, “It’s very disappointing that we continue to not be able to attract full time physicians here. We have had some success in getting locums to cover but locums are not the answer – we need full-time physicians.
“We are experiencing more closures and it is extremely disappointing. There is no magic answer – it’s a very complicated process trying to attract physicians,” Innis added.
When asked why people who have shown interest in the community have not come, Innis said the reasons vary. Twice, Guysborough Memorial Hospital was set to welcome doctors under the Practice Ready Assessment Program – a program to ensure that international medical graduates who wish to practice family medicine in Nova Scotia possess appropriate clinical skills and knowledge to provide quality patient care. But, in both instances, the candidates failed to pass the assessment.
“The community wants to see results and we haven’t been able to get any and that’s very disappointing from our perspective. We have not been able to nail one person down to come here. I look forward to the day when we’re able to do it but, so far, that has not happened,” said Innis.
Along with the foundation’s efforts to recruit doctors, Innis mentioned the financial incentive the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) has offered incoming doctors: $100,000 per successful recruit.
“The municipality has put money on the table. That has not worked as of yet. I am not saying it’s not going to work, but it hasn’t worked as of yet,” Innis said.
MODG Warden Vernon Pitts also talked about the municipality’s financial commitment to recruiting physicians. He told The Journal after council adjourned on July 21 that, “First and foremost we put up $100,000 per person that was willing to come and practise medicine in Guysborough. The onus and responsibility … is a provincial responsibility. The province has got to pull its socks up, get their act in gear, figure out how they are going to attack this situation and get it done.
“There’s no problem getting doctors in our larger urban areas—vis-a-vis HRM – so what is the problem here? The province is going to have to go back to the drawing board and come out with a direct proposed plan that will work. This day and age it’s totally unacceptable for residents of any town or municipality not to have a quality level of healthcare. It’s ridiculous – it’s worse than an insult. This gets us down to the very basics of life,” said Pitts, who pointed out that he has not seen the province put out a financial incentive for doctors as the MODG has done.
Nova Scotia Health spokesperson Brendan Elliott told The Journal in an email interview about the doctor shortage in Guysborough, “Recruiting to the area is a high priority and Nova Scotia Health is in the process of recruiting additional physicians … NS Health is working with potential candidates for the site regularly and discussing site visits and licensing with interested parties. NS Health recruits within NS, within Canada and internationally. Site visits continue, when possible, however COVID-19 restrictions have hampered these efforts.
“Throughout the recruiting process, GMH has been supported by locum physicians who travel to the community to cover emergency department and in-patient shifts at GMH. Locums will continue to support hospital operations in the emergency departments and with in-patient care until we have additional full-time physicians at GMH,” wrote Elliott.
Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal