Yarmouth eyes new community navigator to help with doctor recruitment

Leaders in the Yarmouth area are taking a page from other communities, hoping that investing in a new job and housing to help with doctor recruitment will fill some big gaps.

The Chamber of Commerce has hatched a plan that includes hiring a community navigator.

The navigator would act as a bridge between the Nova Scotia Health Authority's recruiters and the community.

The navigator would help on the social side of recruitment, introducing doctors to schools for their children and helping them find jobs for their spouses.

Chamber president Angie Greene said the shortage of doctors can have a snowball effect on the community.

"If you don't have proper health care, if you can't get a doctor, it affects people's ability to bring in employees for their businesses," said Greene.

"We're looking at it as a project just like if we were advocating for better roads."

The Yarmouth area is not only lacking family doctors, but specialists. The community was reeling in April after learning three anesthesiologists had left the community in the course of a year, leaving just one person to do the work of four.

One specialist has been hired, and the health authority has brought in extra help to extend coverage until the end of July.

"A lot of people think that that might deter doctors, but the doctors that I talked to actually want and go where the most need is," said Greene.

"One doctor's going to make the difference in hundreds of people's lives here in Yarmouth. So we know that whenever we secure a doctor it's a big win for us."

Greene said experience shows that the community position can be of significant benefit. The job was a part of the former regional health authority, and Greene describes their former recruiter as a superstar who brought in more than 100 physicians.

But that recruiter retired five years ago and she wasn't replaced when the regional health authorities amalgamated, said Greene.

"I think that the province really needs to come to the table as well to to identify that there is a missing link to this doctor issue and it's at the community level. We need our we need our community representation back."

Greene's group has been rallying local leaders, asking communities, government and the hospital foundation to chip in to fund the role. 

Greene said $200,000 is needed to start and the hope is $77,000 can be secured from the province.

"It's a big project. I think that where we're coming from a deficit, we need to start with a lot of hours and a lot of build-up work. So we're trying to make sure that this position has enough money to get the ball rolling."

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That money won't just fund a salary. The chamber wants to lease two high-quality, large homes. They would be reserved for any physicians who are moving to the area.

"When we bring in a doctor from outside of the country, they're not able to get a mortgage right away just because of the way the credit system works between countries," she said.

"Neither do they want to buy a house because they want to assess the area and figure out where the best place to buy a house is."

The chamber also wants to attend national physician meetings. It has booked a booth at the Canadian Anesthesiologists' Society annual meeting in Calgary next week.

Community recruitment fund

The provincial government, meanwhile, said it is getting ready to earmark $200,000 specifically for communities to help recruit physicians. The fund would be offered as grants through the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage.

It's possible Yarmouth's plan would fall under that umbrella, but the terms are still being developed and will take a few more weeks, according to the department.

Greene, meanwhile, wants to post the position as soon as possible.

She was hoping the funding would be in place before the end of the month.

"We're not trying to attract a doctor that's looking for an urban lifestyle. We're trying to attract a doctor that wants to live in a seaside community. And I think that there are doctors out there that want that lifestyle. So we just have to show them and that takes some work and some effort and to roll out the welcome mat."

Yarmouth isn't the only community to invest in efforts to find health-care workers. The municipality of the District of Guysborough, for example, recently pledged $20,000 to help with recruitment, while Pictou County has hired its own community navigator.

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