/HHHS changes tack with ER docs

HHHS changes tack with ER docs

By Jenn Watt

Published Sept. 22 2016

With the number of local doctors willing and able to staff theHaliburton emergency room dwindling Haliburton Highlands HealthServices has decided to try recruiting them.

In the past doctors who came to the community to practise familymedicine would be asked to take a few shifts a month at the ER inHaliburton. That method doesn’t work anymore.

“A lot of small towns are struggling across Ontario with notbeing able to attract doctors that are interest in doing both [clinichours and ER hours]” said chief of staff Dr. Greg Karaguesian.

As of this January Karaguesian expects to be down to twofull-time ER doctors three local physicians putting in hours at theER and a handful of locums from the city. It’s not enough toadequately staff the service which sees more than 12700 patients ayear.

“We definitely do have a challenge although we are working onsome strategies to address that challenge” said HHHS CEO CarolynPlummer.

“We are going to be doing something different than we’ve doneas an organization in the past and that is we ourselves are going tobe recruiting an emergency room physician. In the past emergencyroom physicians a lot of them have been the physicians that work inthe Family Health Team so the recruitment of physicians to thiscommunity has typically happened through the Family Health Team asopposed to being done by the hospital” she said.

HHHS will be consulting with local doctors on where to post therecruitment materials and what needs to be included in the call-out.Plummer is also planning to meet with current staff to talk aboutscheduling.

The number of physicians HHHS needs to recruit has to do with thekind of medicine they want to practise she said.

“If we had somebody that was interested in coming herepermanently … we would probably only need one” she said.However if the doctor wanted to work with the Family Health Team andpick up hours at the ER one wouldn’t be enough.

Emergency room doctors don’t work for hospitals they areself-employed and bill the Ministry of Health for their work. Thatmeans while HHHS isn’t the doctors’ employer it is stillresponsible for ensuring its ER is staffed.

HHHS has been in touch with the regional health authority theCentral East Local Health Integration Network about the comingshortage as well as Health Force Ontario (HFO) which will be helpingwith posting recruitment material.

“We haven’t needed a huge amount of support from them [CELHIN] in this regard yet but we may need support from them in thefuture. We are trying to look internally first” Plummer said.

In the interim locums may be relied on more heavily. Some ofthose are doctors who already do regular shifts at the hospitaldespite not living in the area and others could come through HealthForce Ontario.

Karaguesian said he hopes it doesn’t come to that.

“If you make an application to HFO they don’t guarantee thatthey’ll fill your spots but they’ll look because they havedoctors on retainer” he said.

He said the HFO system is more expensive and doesn’t offer thestability that regular staff can provide.

Plummer said there is a cost to using the service but that itcould be needed in the short term until someone is found to workpermanently in the ER.

HHHS is changing the way it finds and retains doctors for theemergency department to address the current dilemma the CEO saidwhile praising current staff and doctors for their efforts to keepthe shifts filled.

“We’re committed to making sure we have the appropriateservices for the people of the County of Haliburton. … We’redoing everything in our power to make sure those services areconsistently there for people.”