Northwest of Thunder Bay on the way to Winnipeg, and 1,766 kilometres away from Toronto, the remote Northern Ontario community Sioux Lookout is on a physician hiring spree.
Officials from the town were in Toronto over the weekend, hoping to recruit physicians to what's known as the Hub of the North, a 6,000-population community with just 22 doctors who serve dozens of primarily Indigenous regions with tens of thousands of residents.
Janet Gordon, Chief Operating Officer of Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority (SLFNHA), told prospective recruits at the Fairmont Royal York on Saturday about the community's health issues — like high rates of diabetes, Hepatitis C and suicide.
"We have a high rate of MRSA in our population and we've seen rheumatic fever in our communities, which doesn't happen anywhere else," she said.
Community has 'complex' healthcare needs
Physician recruiter Jamie Sitar, who was born and raised in the town, acknowledged the recruitment challenges.
"It's a very rural community... it's challenging to get someone who's used to living in an urban environment, or they have family obligations locally, to just pick up and move to a smaller town," he said.
Medical professionals stationed in Sioux Lookout also provide work to smaller communities throughout the region, and do both community healthcare and hospital work, according to Gordon. "It's certainly more complex," she said.
The SLFNHA is hoping to hire nurse practitioners, registered nurses, epidemiologists, social workers and other health specialists — and the community has space for around 50 family physicians.
The hiring efforts follow last year's provincial promise to expand health care services in the Sioux Lookout region, an area with a geographical footprint the size of France.
The investment is part of the Ontario government's more than $200 million First Nations Health Action Plan, which includes a number of initiatives in the region, including more than $3 million to increase physician services and establish a new family health team.