Hard to keep professionals

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I’m sorry to see Haliburton County Public Library CEO Chris Stephenson leaving.

While Chris was very open during a chat last week about the medical reasons behind his decision (back-related), it’s the other ‘back’ story that worries me.

Chris talked about how he moved here two years ago. He was lucky to find a rental because he had contacts at the County of Haliburton, his new employer.

However, his dream of home ownership eluded him. The lack of local housing stock and the astronomical prices were not his friend.

When he and partner, Amanda, crunched house buying numbers, they could not find anything in the Highlands that matched their algorithm. Instead, they were directed to property on the east coast. In this case, Saint John, New Brunswick.

Add the fact Chris has been unable to find a primary care provider. With that bad back and related medical issues, he had to go to the ER when things starting causing problems again. And, most of the specialist medical care he needs cannot be found here, or if it can, there are long waiting lists.

Chris had planned to stay another three to five years, and retire. However, our double whammy – the lack of affordable housing and insufficient medical care – is sending him elsewhere. It’s a story we’ve heard before and a story we will hear again.

Many candidates for job vacancies in the Highlands are telling prospective employers they would love to take the job, but can’t because there isn’t anywhere to live and no one to take care of them if they get sick or injured. Others take the job but commute from towns an hour or more away. That has proven unsustainable.

None of this is new to County politicians, realtors, health care providers, or any of us, really.

There have been some improvements.

We are starting to see the County and its four lower-tier municipalities working towards fulfilling the mandate of the More Homes Built Faster Act. Official plans are being changed. The County of Haliburton yesterday (Oct. 11) received a report from its director of planning, Steve Stone, aimed at additional residences. Once the County is done, Algonquin Highlands, Dysart et al, Highlands East and Minden Hills can follow suit.

We’ve seen Places 4 People selling bonds to help them bring more affordable housing to the Highlands. Paul Wilson continues to work towards overcoming hurdles to bring 88 units to Haliburton. There are other planned builds in Dysart, including a newly purchased parcel of land on County Road 21; and at the corner of Maple Avenue and Victoria Street. Fleming College said it is nearer to breaking ground on student housing. That should free up rental units.

Is all of this happening quickly enough? No.

Minden Hills coun. Shirley Johannessen wants developable land now seemingly abandoned to be looked at in her township. At the last meeting, she asked about the former Beaver Theatre. The most recent owner said he was going to convert to condos but has disappeared. The property already has servicing and would be ideal for a housing retrofit. Councils have to chase these owners down. They have to force their hands. Develop or sell.

And while the Minden ER may have been replaced by now a full-time urgent care clinic, that is not helping the hundreds, if not thousands, of Highlanders who do not have a primary care provider. People like Chris, who can’t get the support he needs to deal with a chronic condition. We have fewer doctors but more residents.

Sure, a CT scanner and CT mammography might help attract new physicians. However, it isn’t like we have a shiny new toy that no one else has. In fact, we had the dubious honour of being the last health services in Ontario to get the diagnostic tools.

More must be done on all levels if we ever hope to retain good talent in the Highlands.