More orphans soon
Pembroke's pool of general practitioners is about to shrink once again when Dr. Michael Gibson hangs the closed sign on his practice at the end of August.
In addition, nurse practitioner Deann Sheppard, owner of the Sheppard's Life Centre where Dr. Gibson maintains his practice, is accompanying her partner to Prince Edward County where they will both join the Prince Edward County Family Health Team.
Dr. Gibson has about 1,400 patients under his care. Because the dwindling pool of family physicians in the area is already stretched thin and doctors are not accepting new patients, those 1,400 people will be left without a family physician.
Dr. Gibson maintained a general practice so in addition to seeing patients in the office, he saw inpatients at the Pembroke Regional Hospital and worked in its emergency department.
He said making the decision to leave the area was difficult.
"I'm definitely going to miss it here. I've very much enjoyed the area, and getting to know my patients and others in the community. It is a big decision losing the familiar and heading into the unknown, but I have to take my own advice and find better balance in my life," Dr. Gibson said.
He said his primary reason for leaving was to be closer to his four children, aged 14 to 20, that are living in the Gananoque region. His other reasons for leaving are to change his model of practice and to find a different balance between his work and his personal life.
"Doctors want to be doctors," he said. "Right now I have to do so many 'business things.' I mean I'm in here Sunday nights, cleaning, I'm renting space, I'm having to take care of all those business things that I'm not good at and that I don't want to do. I want to be a doctor," he said.
He explained that as part of a large family health team in Prince Edward County, he will be able to strike a better balance between the demands of work and his personal life because of the amount of support around him. In addition, of the time he does spend working, more will be done practising medicine and less tending to business matters.
At the clinic where he will be working, there will be nurse practitioners, a dietitian, even technical support staff to aid with setting up computers. He said he will be one of 23 physicians in the Prince Edward County Family Health Team.
In the interim, he is continuing to look for a doctor to take over his practice in Pembroke but he doesn't think he will have much success.
"I can't even give it away," he said. "Doctors today are just not interested in being business owners. They want to be doctors. No one wants to take this over. I'm still looking for someone but I don't have a replacement right now," he said.
Dr. Gibson said there really wasn't anything that could have been done differently that would have kept him in this area.
"Physician recruitment and retention and how services are delivered are issues that all regions are experiencing. These are universal problems and are not unique to his area. Pembroke has a lot to offer. For me, this is a change for personal reasons," he said.
Originally from London, Ontario, Dr. Gibson studied medicine at Queen's University, and family practice in Newfoundland. Before moving to Pembroke 12 years ago, he practiced for four years in Kirkland Lake. While in the north, he met Dr. John Epps and doctors Daniel and Judith Plante, who encouraged him to come to Pembroke.
Ms. Sheppard was working in the emergency department at the Pembroke Regional Hospital on Thursday, and could not be reached for comment on her move to Prince Edward County.
Dr. Gibson said the exact future of the Sheppard's Life Centre is unknown at this time.
Debbie Robinson, chairwoman of the Upper Ottawa Valley Medical Recruitment Committee, was worried by the news that another family physician was closing up shop.
"It certainly is a concern because we have been losing doctors and not making up ground or keeping pace (in recruiting new family physicians)," she said.
She said according to a provincial formula, the area had been short at least six family physicians and was now likely short seven.
Ms. Robinson said the committee is continuing to work hard to alleviate some of the pressure from this most recent announcement.
"This does place a strain on those patients and on the medical community at large. Our doctors are already working overtime to meet peoples' needs as best they can," she said.
Ms. Robinson said there are some prospective doctors that will be touring the area and the committee will be showing them Dr. Gibson's practice.
The West Champlain Healthy Community Corporation is also constructing a new medical building on property in front of the Pembroke Regional Hospital. The corporation intends to apply for a Family Health Team, which Ms. Robinson hopes will be a solid incentive to help recruit physicians who are not looking to open a private practice.
The committee continues to maintain its own local orphaned patient list. Ms. Robinson said currently there are about 3,300 people on that list.
She advises Dr. Gibson's 1,400 patients to add their names to that list for a couple of reasons.
"(With 1,400 new orphaned patients) There's a potential 5,000 residents on that list without a family doctor and that is by no means everybody in the area that doesn't have a doctor. This is a crisis situation and it's getting worse. The province has to take notice and has to give some funding for Family Health Teams," she said. "I'd like to tell people not to panic but sometimes you can't be silent if you want to move Queen's Park. We need help. There's only so much you can do as a community."
When a new family physician is recruited to the area, they will be taking patients randomly from the committee's orphaned patient list. This is another reason why Ms. Robinson said it is important for orphaned patients to be on the list.
To get on the list, fill out a form that is available at the offices of municipalities within the committee's catchment area, the Renfrew County and District Health Unit, the Champlain Community Care Access Centre, the Pembroke Lakeside Medical Walk-in Clinic, the Lorrain Ambulatory Clinics, the Pembroke Chamber of Commerce Information office, major pharmacies in the catchment area and on line at www.theottawavalley.com/physicianwaitlist/. Interested persons can mail their completed form to The Upper Ottawa Valley Medical Recruitment Committee, Family Physician Wait List Form, P. O. BOX 641 Pembroke, ON K8A 6X9.
Ms. Robinson also suggested that people call the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and place their name on their orphaned patient list as well.
"It's another tool, another way we can be recognized and tell the province that we are not happy and that not providing primary health care is not acceptable,"Ms. Robinson said.
To get on the ministry's list, call Health Care Connect at 1-800-445-1822.
Anthony Dixon is a Daily Observer reporter