A task force that’s worked to entice family doctors to Sarnia-Lambton over the past two decades is changing its name.
“I’d like to introduce the Blue Coast Primary Care Recruitment and Retention Team,” said recruiter Carly Cox, presenting the new branding to Sarnia council this week.
The name change is expected to take effect around the end of January after the legal process to confirm its charitable status is complete, she said.
Until then, it’s still the Physician Recruitment Taskforce of Sarnia Lambton.
The rebranding is being done to make the group more inclusive of all of Lambton County, and as part of a redefinition of its mission and what it does in the community, Cox said.
Set up in 2001 amid a shortage of family doctors in Sarnia-Lambton, the task force has helped bring 35 physicians to the community since, she said.
With limited funding for the work – just Sarnia, Point Edward and Bluewater Health contribute to its $113,000 budget, though recruiting is done for all of Lambton County, Cox said – the task force had applied to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario to be eligible for a lottery licence so it could do more fundraising.
It was turned down earlier this year.
“The AGCO came back to us saying our mandate was not for the betterment of the community as a whole; it was more directed towards the physician,” said Cox, the task force’s only employee.
“So of course, there was a lot of back and forth in terms of ‘How do our efforts not better the community as a whole?’” she said.
Gaining eligibility is one of the main reasons for rebranding and revamping the mission of the task force, as plans are to apply again, she said.
“We do not want to be solely dependent on our funders,” she said. “We want to play our part in terms of fundraising as well.”
The task force’s mission statement says it’ll work to meet local health-care needs and enhance local health, social and economic quality of life.
This year, meanwhile, has been a tough one for recruiting, with just one family doctor coming to Sarnia-Lambton, Cox said.
Recruitment has changed with the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
“The biggest part of our role was welcoming people to the community – hosting them for dinner, showcasing a lot of the assets of the community,” she said.
“So not being able to do that has created a huge need for creativity. A lot of virtual promotion.”
That included showcasing the community to more than 201 family medicine residents virtually this year, she said.
About 13,500 people in Lambton County don’t have a family doctor, meaning there’s a need for six new recruits, not counting impending retirements, Cox said. Two physicians with 3,200 patients are expected to retire in 2021, she said.
The task force annually requests money from local municipalities and, for several years, has received about $1 per person from Sarnia to fund its work.
The ask went up this year to $80,000 to cover the costs of a new program and Cox’s wage increase.
The task force is also running a deficit in 2020 of nearly $8,000, Cox said.
Sarnia city council will decide at budget deliberations Dec. 1 whether to provide that funding request.
Couns. Bill Dennis and Mike Stark lauded the task force’s work and said other municipalities besides Sarnia and Point Edward should step up to help with funding.
“When people say ‘we’re all in this together,’ I think it’s a nice slogan, but actions speak louder than words,” Dennis said.
There’s also the possibility the task force could work more closely with the city in the future, Sarnia CAO Chris Carter said.
“There are, I believe, many opportunities and synergies” to be found between the task force and the city’s new economic development department, he said.
“I don’t want to comment too much on it right now because there still needs to be a little bit of a deeper dive in terms of how those synergies might work, or how they might look with ourselves and Point Edward, but I do believe there are some positive outcomes.”
More information on that could be available by or before mid 2021, he said.