One-quarter of Yarmouth residents are on the wait-list for a family doctor

Yarmouth town council recently extended funding for a community navigator who works to recruit and retain doctors to the southwestern Nova Scotia town. (Richard Cuthbertson/CBC - image credit)
Yarmouth town council recently extended funding for a community navigator who works to recruit and retain doctors to the southwestern Nova Scotia town. (Richard Cuthbertson/CBC - image credit)

Officials in the Yarmouth, N.S., area say despite larger wait-lists for family doctors, there are signs accessing care will get easier.

In March 2019, 3.5 per cent of the population (873 people) in the Yarmouth zone was on the wait-list for a family doctor. That now sits at 25.8 per cent (6,402) as the province grapples with a health-care system under immense strain.

Yarmouth has the largest percentage of residents on the province's family doctor wait-list, according to Nova Scotia Health's February report.

Rebecca Cassidy is the community navigator for the Yarmouth region medical professional recruitment partnership. Her job is to attract doctors to Yarmouth and support them as they settle into their new lives in the southwestern Nova Scotia town.

Cassidy said that while there have been 41 new hires since March 2019, 20 have left, for reasons including retirement or moving away.

Submitted by Rebecca Cassidy
Submitted by Rebecca Cassidy

"I'd like to think that we're on the rise back up the hill, so to speak," she said.

Cassidy said besides the net gain in doctors — which include family doctors and specialists — there are other initiatives she thinks will help improve access to care in Yarmouth.

She said a primary care clinic opened recently in a Main Street pharmacy, there are some new weekend walk-in clinics in the town and the province has announced some virtual-care options.

"But again, those are not programs that … have anything to do with my project, other than they make my job easier," she said.

As community navigator, Cassidy's catch-all role finds her taking recruits on tours of the area, organizing events for existing ones — such as a pottery night or a trip to the Tusket Islands — or even speaking to a class of high school students to consider health care as a career option.

While Cassidy has worked in the community navigator position since September 2019, her position has been extended for three years.

Town renews funding for community navigator

Yarmouth town council recently voted unanimously to continue to help fund the position. Cassidy's position is paid for by a total of seven organizations.

Mayor Pam Mood says she's hearing anecdotally from people that finding a family doctor is getting better. But she said that's of little comfort to the ones still struggling to get care.

"When you don't have a doctor, it doesn't matter what's being done," said Mood. "And so that's the conundrum."

Andrew Sidock has been without a family doctor for around three years. The 31-year-old teacher and married father of one said among his co-workers and peers, he doesn't know of anyone who has a family doctor.

"That leads to, obviously, like a buildup of other health issues and not necessarily treating yourself the way that you should because you don't have access to that routine health care," said the Yarmouth man.


He needs care for mental health needs and had a stroke in January.

Sidock said not having access to regular care means he sometimes will resort to home remedies to fix something.

"I'll just ignore it until the problem becomes something that I can no longer not ignore and then I feel it's worth maybe waiting 12 to 14 hours in an emergency department to have dealt with," said Sidock.

Submitted by Sheri Needham
Submitted by Sheri Needham

Sheri Needham lives in nearby Darlings Lake, N.S. She and most of her family have been without a family doctor for 4½ years.

Needham, who has diabetes, gets prescription refills through virtual care from a Halifax clinic.

"It's great that we have that resource so that we don't have to go and sit for 12 hours [at the emergency room] just to get a prescription refilled, but at the same time, there's no follow up, there's no continuity of care," she said.

Needham is concerned health issues are going undiagnosed, especially for her 82-year-old mother, who lives with her and her family.

Waiting for care

Needham said she received a call around five months ago from someone who works with the family doctor registry. The caller said a nurse practitioner or doctor was setting up in Yarmouth, but Needham hasn't heard anything since.

She estimates she's had six family doctors in the last 19 years.

"You just start to get somewhere with them and then they're gone and you have to start all over again with a new doctor, so I think recruitment is great, but retention would be even better," she said.