It’s getting common to live in a community that does not have enough family physicians to care for all the residents and where emergency departments have staffing difficulties and specialist services have long waiting lists.
Census statistics shows that almost 40 per cent of people in Markham are East Asian and the most frequently spoken mother tongue languages after official languages are Cantonese (23 per cent) and Mandarin (13 per cent).
The demand for Chinese-speaking family physicians in the city has been growing dramatically. A video from social media shows hundreds of patients lined up on March 15 to get a registration form for a newly opened clinic at First Markham Place.
Evelyn Zhang was part of the queue. She had learned from a notice in the mall that Dr. Yung Yan Kai’s clinic would be accepting new patients within a few days of opening. In order to get a registration form, she arrived around 7 a.m. that day, but it was too late, all the forms had already been distributed.
“I've heard that people who came in line at five, six in the morning probably got a chance,” said the Scarborough resident, who has been looking for a Chinese-speaking family doctor since July 2021 but has had no luck.
One of the receptionists of Dr. Yung’s clinic, Shirley Yung, confirmed in an interview with yorkregion.com that the first few days of opening were chaotic and frustrating.
Shirley Yung said she realized there were lots of people from Hong Kong returning to Canada recently due to different reasons but didn't expect so many people to queue up for family doctors.
"It saddens me that some patients have been lining up outside the door even from the night before just to make sure to get registration forms. It shows that the Chinese immigration in our community is facing very, very limited medical resources."
The executive director of Carefirst, a community and health services association, explained why people insist on finding a physician who speaks their native language. “It makes patients feel at ease and likely results in them feeling more engaged in their care,” said Tamara Belfer.
Carefirst is fortunate to have both Mandarin and Cantonese speaking family physicians, Belfer said. Operating since 2007, Carefirst Family Health Team is currently seeing 10,000 patients per year and has a wait list of close to 2,000 patients. “They may need to wait one to two years to be enrolled,” Belfer said.
Markham councillor Isa Lee said she receives inquiries from residents, mostly seniors, from time to time about their inability to find Chinese-speaking family physicians and dentists.
“I know that it has been challenging for nearby residents to find a Chinese-speaking family doctor, given the fact that many physicians are not accepting new patients at the moment,” she said, suggesting that many physicians are using the pandemic as a reason to retire, resulting in more patients searching for mostly Chinese-speaking family physicians at the same time.
Lee admits this is a complex issue that cannot be addressed through individual municipalities but needs to be looked and addressed in its entirety and at its roots across the country.
Belfer believes that Carefirst does have the ability to take on additional physicians in their clinic, but the problem is that there are not enough family physicians to be hired, let alone family physicians who speak Cantonese or Mandarin.
The Ontario government seems to notice the gap in the health-care system and wants to ensure equitable access to health care that support new immigrants by launching the largest medical school expansion in more than 10 years.
In an email response, Bill Campbell, an Ontario Ministry of Health spokesperson, said the province will be adding 160 undergraduate seats and 295 postgraduate positions over the next five years.
According to a government announcement on March 29, Ontario is also proposing legislative amendments to the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991 (RHPA), to reduce registration barriers for foreign-credentialed medical professionals. The legislation would prohibit regulatory colleges from requiring Canadian work experience as a qualification for registration in order to address health human resource challenges.
Scarlett Liu, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Economist & Sun