Before Dr. Marion Baechler signed on to become the second physician at the Sundridge Medical Clinic late in 2021, another doctor expressed a similar interest. Township of Strong Coun. Marianne Stickland, who also sits on the medical centre committee, said “unbenowst to the committee there was another doctor that was interested in coming to the Sundridge Medical Centre and had already engaged in discussions with our chair.” Stickland made the comment at the most recent meeting of the medical centre committee, adding committee members were made aware of the matter when the physician in question sent an email to the members. However Sundridge Coun. Steve Hicks, who also chairs the medical centre committee, said “as much as you were surprised by that email, we were also surprised.” Hicks said it was clear a misunderstanding had occurred between the physician, who was only identified as female, and him because “at no time did we ever promise this physician the position. “There were no actual negotiations going on with this physician who expressed some interest.” But Hicks added discussions never moved beyond the expression of interest stage. Hicks said it was his job, and the job of the committee, to find a second physician for the medical clinic and although several opportunities arose during the recruitment phase, he said “until the point that we had a (signed) contract, any sort of interest was just that, interest and nothing more.” Hicks acknowledged that in the case of the physician who sent the email to the committee members, the process went a little further than usual but “when it came down to discussing terms of a contract, this never happened. “We never had that opportunity to have that discussion and then another opportunity presented itself and things worked out,” Hicks said. Dr. Sarah MacKinnon, the medical clinic's veteran physician, backed Hicks up on the process that unfolded with the unnamed physician. MacKinnon told the committee she was familiar with the physician because she had stood in for her temporarily in the past. But MacKinnon also said the physician had a practice of asking questions, getting answers to those questions but then not doing any further follow-up with Hicks or her for very long periods of time. MacKinnon said at times months would pass before she or Hicks heard again from the physician after answering questions. She added that at one point in time, she and Hicks had told the committee about this particular physician without revealing her name. “After we'd been through that process a few times we weren't surprised not hearing back” right away, MacKinnon said. MacKinnon said one time the physician asked about the medical clinic policies and after answering those questions MacKinnon said “I offered her the chance to speak to me further. “I told her quite clearly in my email that the next step would be signing a contract if she was interested (but) I never heard back from her.” It was shortly after this Baechler contacted the committee and offered to sign a contract. MacKinnon said it's unfortunate the physician who had earlier expressed an interest in the position “didn't understand that she had to sign a contract but I think that's kind of basic and it was spelled out to her.” When Stickland raised the issue of the email from the physician, she felt the process Hicks was engaged in was not transparent since she only learned of the physician's interest through an email. However, in response Hicks said the hiring process never changed. But Hicks took responsibility for his actions and told Stickland that if she and all the committee wanted to be made aware of every single discussion he has regarding physician recruitment in the future “I'm happy to provide that information.” But Hicks wanted Stickland and the other committee members to understand that once he provides every detail to them they should expect a lot of disappointment because there are many physicians who make inquiries “and never get back to us. “Many times there's a lot of interest but nothing comes to fruition. “It dries up and nothing happens. But I'm happy to keep you in the loop. And I'm sorry you felt you were being kept in the dark because that was not my intention.”
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget