Searching for family physicians

·3 min read

It took two years, but Pat Lingard finally has a family doctor in Chatham-Kent.

The 77-year-old, who has inoperable lung cancer – along with a host of other medical conditions – relocated to Chatham-Kent from Leamington in January 2019.

Considering the gravity of their illness, Lingard thought she and her husband Wayne would be able to sign on with a new family physician.

But it wasn’t that easy.

“I was at my wit’s end,” the former Windsor taxi driver said when she called The Voice in a last-ditch effort to get help.

But right after making the call, things changed for Lingard and she finally landed a local doctor.

“I couldn’t be happier,” Lingard explained after meeting Dr. Lau Nov. 1, adding she “desperately” needed a local physician to fill prescriptions and help with her complex medical needs.

She said she was very pleased with the warm reception from her new doctor, adding he took the time to listen closely to her concerns.

Lingard’s original family doctor in Windsor had resigned, due to his own health issues, so the couple was reassigned to a clinic in Leamington where they lived.

But because of respiratory problems – Wayne also suffers from extreme COPD – they had to downsize, selling their home in Leamington because the property became too much for them.

On the advice of a good friend, the pair decided to relocate to Chatham’s St. Clair Estates and it’s a place they say they both feel at home.

But one problem remains. Wayne can’t find a family doctor.

He’s not alone.

The retired janitor is among the estimated 15 per cent or about 16,000 Chatham-Kent residents lacking a primary care physician.

It’s a number that’s expected to rise as more people move into Chatham-Kent and family doctors retire.

According to Denise Waddick, co-chair of the CK Family Physician Recruitment Task Force, there are currently 57 family doctors practicing locally, along with 116 specialists.

Waddick said representatives from Chatham-Kent’s leading health organization are always actively engaged in initiatives that keep “family physician recruitment at the forefront.”

The task force works on a broad range of activities to lure prospective doctors to Chatham-Kent, including seeking students at medical schools overseas.

“We understand the need for family physicians is great and concerning to the community,” said Waddick. “We are working hard to recruit physicians to C-K.”

As far as doctors retiring, Waddick said each community health centre and family health team works with each physician to put a plan in place.

Local residents seeking a family doctor are advised to call Health Care Connect at 1-888-447-4468 and they will guide the person through the process.

The doctor shortage problem isn’t unique to southern Ontario, as it’s happening across the country with some regions in worse shape than others.

The Canadian Medical Association estimates there are currently five million Canadians without a family doctor.

In the meantime at the Lingard house, they wait for a call and Pat worries.

“With his COPD, he needs a lot of prescriptions,” she said. “He’s got nobody to fill repeats and what happens to him when there’s an emergency?” she asks. “At least I have somewhere I go.”

Pam Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chatham Voice

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