OPINION: What are we doing about health care?

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What are we doing? cover art

A lot of people think municipal governments have nothing to do with health care in Ontario. While it’s true the province oversees much of the jurisdiction, the County and its townships actually have quite a role to play in the field. 

For example, the County of Haliburton runs the paramedic service locally. They respond to calls in the County and parts of surrounding counties. 

They employ about 50 primary care paramedics. They operate seven front-line ambulances. They have three bases: in Haliburton, Minden and Tory Hill. They respond to about 4,000 calls per year. 

Naturally, the province shares in the funding for all of this. On top of that, the County transitioned from having a recruitment committee to hiring a part-time physician recruitment coordinator in 2019. 

Wendy Welch has been beating the bushes for doctors ever since. To this end, the County provides financial incentives for a return of service for between four and six years. It works out to about $25,000 per year, up to $150,000. 

In 2020, the County expanded this to include emergency room doctors, who commit to full-time practice. Late last year (2021), the County also leased a property to house visiting physicians on a short-term basis with partial cost recovery. 

You might have seen the three new billboards around the Highlands, too? 

The ones with the canoes parked up on a beach and ‘staff parking’ to entice new physicians. In fact, the County spends about $210,000 a year on trying to get doctors. They’ve recruited six in six years. 

But, is it all enough? Could a new, incoming County council do more? The answer is yes. For example, they could make the recruitment position full-time and provide more staff housing for health care professionals. Former head of EMS, and current County Coun. Pat Kennedy has some ideas. 

So does his wife, Cheryl Kennedy, who has been involved in physician recruitment in the past. Pat is glad there is now 24/7 paramedic staffing in Tory Hill to better service the eastern part of the county but worries about the northwest. 

He’d like another 24/7 base and suggests the former Frost Centre in Algonquin Highlands. If there was the political will, the County would have to talk to the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, which now owns the site. 

It would also have to pony up more money. Kennedy’s also worried that County ambulances are spending a lot of time taking patients to Lindsay and Peterborough for CAT scans.

While on the way to and from those hospitals, they are having to respond to 911 calls in other jurisdictions because they are the nearest ambulances. That leaves the County short of ambulances at times. 

He suggests, and Cheryl agrees, that the only real solution is for the County to lobby the province to get a CAT scan for the Highlands. It’s not a stretch since CAO Mike Rutter has also expressed that he would like to see the Highlands have a CAT scan. 

This would require not just lobbying but some money and possibly kick starting a community fundraising drive. The other prickly issue – and no doubt an elephant in the room – is a made-inHaliburton solution to the fact we have two hospitals in the County and probably should only have one if serious about housing a CAT scan and attracting health care professionals.

It would be interesting to know – if asked point blank – what candidates would say about where one hospital should be located – Haliburton or Minden – and what should be done with the other building?