North Bay City Council has unanimously backed a motion with a focus on finding solutions to address the shortage of physicians and health care professionals in the north.
A key part of the equation is finding ways to encourage more physicians and health care professionals to stay and work in northern communities.
"NOSM has fewer spots for health care professionals than the rest of Ontario's medical schools and it would take, at minimum, five NOSM graduating classes of 64 physicians per year to address the current shortage," the motion reads.
Still, "NOSM is our best vehicle to get doctors to train and stay in the north," declared the mover, Coun. Bill Vrebosch as he led the discussion during Tuesday's regular meeting.
The motion from Vrebosch and Coun. Mac Bain originates with FONOM and formally requests the provincial government and the Ontario Medical Association to immediately expand the Northern Ontario School of Medicine's capacity with additional residency and medical doctor positions, plus increased clinical teaching funding to the Northern Ontario Academic Medicine Association.
In late 2021, NOSM numbers indicated North Bay was in need of 26 physicians including seven family doctors and 19 specialists. The school estimated a minimum of 313 full-time equivalent physicians are needed across the north and that figure does not reflect anticipated retirements. Of those 313 vacancies,126 family physicians are needed, 86 of those in rural communities.
Bain provided some findings from the Canadian Mental Health Association's Rural and Northern Community Issues in Mental Health showing "residents of northern Ontario are disadvantaged by the limited availability and access to primary health care, specialists, hospitals, and community supports."
According to the Ontario government, Bain relayed as of November 2021 "there is a list of 163 communities (and growing) in Ontario — encompassing the entirety of northern Ontario — that have a longstanding challenge in recruiting and retaining physicians."
The motion states underserved Northern Ontario locales — including rural, Indigenous, and Francophone communities — have been advocating without much success for relief and the physician shortage remains "a failure of health care in Northern Ontario." One in eight northerners do not have a family doctor while the life expectancy of northern residents is more than two years lower than the Ontario average.
NOSM was created in 2002 to “reverse a chronic shortage of physicians with a mandate to improve the health of Northern Ontarians, with a focus on rural, remote, Indigenous and Francophone populations.”
NOSM University is the first stand-alone medical school in Canada and “will continue to emphasize its primary mandate to addressing the region's health-care gaps,” said Dr. Sarita Verma, Dean, President and CEO of NOSM last month. “NOSM prioritizes the need for education in northern Ontario and leading population and health research to make sure that any health care provided is tailored specifically to the needs of the people in the region. NOSM University will continue to meet the needs of the north and we will recruit from its people — who train here in culturally relevant programs and stay here to practice.”
The resolution from North Bay City Council will be forwarded to Premier Doug Ford, Minister of Colleges and Universities Jill Dunlop, Minister of Health Christine Elliott, their Deputy Ministers, MPP Victor Fedeli, the Leaders of the Opposition Parties, Ontario Medical Association, Northern School of Medicine, Northern Ontario Academic Medicine Association, Association of Municipalities of Ontario and the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities.
With files from Linda Holmes