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North Bay Regional Health Centre feeling effects of doctor shortage and availability: CEO

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North Bay Regional Health Centre’s President and CEO Paul Heinrich says the hospital continues to face issues around doctor availability as there are not enough family physicians in the community.

The exterior of North Bay Regional Health Centre on July 4, 2024. (Eric Taschner/CTV News Northern Ontario)

Heinrich said the shortage is partly due to doctors taking on multiple roles in the hospital at any given time.

However, the availability issue comes at a time when new hospital data finds patients are checking in sicker.

Last year’s data shows patients seeking care are coming in more ill and with more complex health issues.

Heinrich told CTV News that he believes there are two reasons for this are many of these patients don’t have a family doctor and so they are delaying seeking treatment.

“During COVID there was times when we discouraged people from getting care or people felt sort of guilty to access care at times. I think all these things are causing delays in people seeking treatment,” he said.

“That means that they're coming in, say, three months later, getting admitted to the hospital. They might have been admitted three months before that if they'd shown up, but they're dealing with their issue for longer.”

“The one piece of really good news this year is that we matched five family practice residents and I think many of them are most likely to remain here,” Heinrich told reporters on Thursday.

“Last year in our national residency match, we had zero matched.”

North Bay Regional Health Centre’s President and CEO Paul Heinrich, Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli and North Bay Mayor Peter Chirico address the media at a provincial funding announcement for North Bay Regional Health Centre on July 4, 2024. (Eric Taschner/CTV News Northern Ontario)

The region is continuing to ramp up its recruitment efforts, said Heinrich.

The Ontario government announced Thursday it is providing over $10.5 million in base funding to the hospital for the 2024-25 fiscal year.

The funding breakdown includes the following:

  • $9,173,600 in annualized base funding representing a 4.1% budget increase
  • $1,294,300 in one-time funding allocations
  • $210,000 in Hospital Infrastructure Renewal Funding (HIRF)

The one-time funding allocation is meant to improve the hospital’s emergency department length-of-stay targets while the HIRF funding will help health system partners like the North Bay Regional Health Centre to address urgent infrastructure needs. For example, upgrading or replacing roofs, windows, security and fire alarm systems and emergency generators to ensure people can continue to connect to care in safe, modern facilities.

“It helps it go a long way forward, plus the other things we’re doing,” said Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli.

“Since we were elected, we’ve brought on and hired 80,000 new nurses.”

Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli speaking at a provincial funding announcement for North Bay Regional Health Centre on July 4, 2024. (Eric Taschner/CTV News Northern Ontario)

Part of the funding, about $1 million, is being used to recruit a physician assistant and nurse practitioner to alleviate pressure on the emergency room doctor team.

“Our gap is approximately 10 family physicians in the community and I would say we need eight emergency docs,” said Heinrich.

“Beyond that, there’s some other disciplines that would be nice to have.”

The hospital currently staffs around 150 active doctors.

Fedeli points out the success of opening three new schools of medicine that are graduating over 1,600 students studying in health care, noting 90 per cent of families living in the province have access to a family doctor.

“There’s more spending today in health care than the day we were elected,” Fedeli said.

“When we were elected, there was $60 billion invested in health care. Today it's $85 billion every year. So, it's up $25 billion. It's almost up 50 per cent.”

Hospital officials said its other healthcare provider positions like registered nurses, nurse practitioners are stable.

Heinrich said the psychiatry team is also in good shape – given the facility is a regional mental health case provided.

“We just try and stay focused on the positive things that are happening and there’s a lot of those,” he said.

North Bay Regional Health Centre’s President and CEO Paul Heinrich speaking at a provincial funding announcement for the facility on July 4, 2024. (Eric Taschner/CTV News Northern Ontario)

The hospital maintains it needs another $20 million to continue providing all of its health care services adequately. 

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