When Debbie Padbury found out she could no longer visit her Cornwall, Ont., clinic for a doctor's appointment, she was shocked.
On June 12, the McConnell Medical Clinic permanently shut its doors after 32 years in operation. It was the city's first and oldest walk-in clinic, serving the residents of Cornwall and the neighbouring regions in both English and French.
But last month, the clinic announced on Facebook it was closing due to a severe shortage of doctors and medical staff. The post has since been shared nearly 1,000 times, garnering hundreds of comments from upset residents.
"[I'm] very disappointed," said Padbury. "A lot of people are going to be hurt from this."
The plight facing Cornwall residents isn't unique, however, as the COVID-19 pandemic has left the province facing a widespread shortage of medical professionals, said Dr. Rose Zacharias, president of the Ontario Medical Association.
"Our current critical doctor shortage [is due to] the level of burnout we are experiencing as health-care team providers … after two and a half years of dealing with the crisis of the pandemic," she said.
Last year, roughly two in three Ontario physicians experienced burnout, Zacharias said. This year, that's jumped to roughly three in four.
As a result, doctors are retiring early, Zacharias said.
"It's really a crisis of human health resources in the medical profession and the health-care system at this time," she said.
Searching for solutions
Walk-in clinics are especially critical for people who don't have a family doctor, and the closure of the McConnell Medical Clinic could mean some Cornwall residents won't get the care they need, said Mayor Glen Grant.
"It's left a real void in our medical treatment plan for the community," he said.
Grant said he has been searching for solutions, and over the last two weeks the city has been lucky enough to make two new medical staff hires, although he clarified they're not family doctors.
Given the provincewide shortage, Grant said the Ontario government needs to be more proactive in helping communities recruit doctors, particularly from the pool of new Canadians.
"[Among] the immigrants arriving in our communities, there are plenty of doctors that have to get re-qualified," said Grant. "The province should consider whether there are too many restrictions on doctors coming in from out of our country."
Grant said he's now looking for doctors who want to move to Cornwall to provide health care, adding the city "will accommodate them in any possible way."
For Zacharias, it's imperative that clinics, hospitals and other medical centres stay open to deliver health care to Ontarians, especially as the pandemic isn't yet over.
"Any time there is a clinic that is closed because they are unable to operate in their current capacity, it's extremely critical," she said. "And we get very concerned about it."