County of Haliburton physician recruitment coordinator Wendy Welch said her goal is to hire two to three family doctors in 2024.

However, she acknowledged that would still leave the Haliburton Highlands Family Health Team (HHFHT) – which is not accepting new patients – short-staffed.

“For the family medical centre, we are now five physicians short. We have eight on staff and we have openings for five,” Welch said. She was responding to a question from coun. Bob Carter.

He asked her for her goal, noting it did not include the need for emergency room staff, which he said is “obviously a big deal here.”

Carter estimated 50 per cent of the population has a family doctor “and we’re growing” so estimated six to 10 doctors are needed at the HHFHT.

Reporting to council on her work over the past few months, Welch said having two rental properties is helping. There is one on Anson Street in Minden, with a lease in place until June. She said two physicians are staying there, providing relief to the Urgent Care Clinic in Minden. The County also has a rental on Deer Point Lane, Haliburton, for another year. Welch said they have reservations there.

“We’ve had some doctors that are coming back because they’ve enjoyed the stay, the experience of being in town,” Welch said. She added she had feedback from a doctor staying in Minden that ‘you guys make this easy. You make us want to come here.’ “I really think these properties make a big difference.”

That being said, Welch said recruitment is highly competitive. For example, she attended an event for McMaster University with 40 student residents and 38 communities vying for doctors. In addition, “the physicians seem more interested in locum opportunities rather than settling anywhere full-time, unfortunately.”

Welch said their marketing is grabbing attention, in particular posters depicting kayaks parked on a beach as staff parking. She said residents vacationing in the Highlands thought the accompanying billboards were “great”.

She and Haliburton Highlands Health Services acting CEO Veronica Nelson were attending a University of Ottawa recruitment event last week and Welch will be heading to others in the fall and winter.

She told council she has had some success getting temporary staff for inpatient services at the hospital, ER and HHFHT.

She is working with HHHS to try to recruit a medical director for Highland Wood long-term care home.

Welch said one “exciting” development is Queen’s University now has a teaching site at Lakeridge Hospital in Oshawa, “and there is a potential of Haliburton County being exposed to more learners through this program.”

She said she had also run ads in the British Medical Journal. She noted the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) had loosened requirements for doctors from Australia, the UK, the U.S. and Ireland.

She said 22 physicians reached out to her. “Three are very strong leads.”

However, she said it takes about seven weeks to go through the process with the CPSO to get confirmation that the candidates are eligible.”

Welch said she is also looking into the federal government’s Labor Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), a document an employer in Canada may need to get before hiring a foreign worker.

Going forward, Welch said her plan is to attend more recruitment events; identify and create a streamline process or checklist when dealing with international clients; more overseas marketing and engaging directly with med students.