Randy Belair is the executive director for the Sunset Country Family Health Team, and he says it's a good time for Kenora residents to get involved in doctor recruitment.

"I think now's a wonderful opportunity for the community to get together. That includes city, the community itself and health care professionals to get involved and take ownership of physician recruitment and retention in this community," he said.

As they look to fill three vacancies for family doctors, Belair notes there's recent changes in policies at Queen's Park, which may be an obstacle.

"There's been some recent changes to the OMA (Ontario Medical Association) physician services agreement, with some reduction in payments  in some incentives. We don't know the impact of that's going to be yet," he added.

Belair agrees the access to specialists is especially important for cancer patients and cardiac treatment. He adds they're also short three family doctors at this point, and they're competing against communities across northern Ontario for candidates.

As part of the recruitment process, clinics are trying to attract the spouse, as well as the physician, which Belair says has been more difficult.

"Another problem is that the economies in many of the northern communities -- ours included -- aren't the best these days, and it's difficult to find employment for spouses. So, that's one of the barriers to recruiting, and it's also a barrier to retaining some physicians," Belair added.

Last month, deficit cutting measures in the provincial government's spring budget combined with comments from a local physician, as the issue came to the forefront again. While city council has worked closely with the Paterson Medical Clinic on renovations to the building, as well as initiatives to make the community more attractive to prospective candidates, Belair said there's still more work to be done.

Depending on their responsibilities with the neighbouring hospital -- as well as within the community -- a family doctor can have a patient list that varies from 300 to more than 1,000 patients, Belair noted.

A town hall meeting is set for May 19 at the Lakeside Inn, where residents can have their say.

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