EDITORIAL: Family physician shortage curtails campaign goal celebration

It was a siren song of celebration at Picton’s historic Crystal Palace Thursday as the Prince Edward County Memorial Hospital Foundation revealed the Back the Build campaign numbers to the public.

That the goal of $16.5 million- the community’s portion of the new PECMH project due to get underway in about 18 months- would be reached and breached was never in doubt. In the eyes of this reporter anyway.

Because if there’s a constant in this community like summer traffic, lake effect snow and the sweet smell of lilacs every May, the everlasting love and devotion of our county hospital by the people it serves eclipses all those aforementioned certainties.

So it was with good reason the story of the Back the Build fundraising team meeting its goal and much more graces our front page today. This achievement is historic and folks like Shannon Coull, Nancy Parks and Dennis Darby and others can take a great sense of pride in what’s been accomplished and what is surely to be gained in the next year or two as the Foundation aims to fill our little rural hospital with the latest medical technology.

But there was another story this week that should also grab the attention of anyone living, working and even visiting Prince Edward County. In what’s becoming an annual or even semi-annual feature, the Toronto Star buttressed a housing shortage story around the official opening of the Royal Hotel.

The lack of employee rental space stagnating this region’s hospitality sector part of the focus on the Star’s reportage of the day.

The old chestnut of ‘Who will work in Ontario’s newest and freshest island paradise when the rent and cost of entering the home owner market is so high?’

You know, ever present quandary in Prince Edward County of who will bake the bread, buss the tables and lay down fresh linen when the affordable and attainable housing crisis equates to a human resources desert with hundreds of jobs and no one to staff them?

That story we live everyday.

The story wasn’t all doom and gloom as the Royal is subsidizing housing for its staff. Not a cure all for all businesses in the county but ingenuous just the same.

But inside the Star story was a comment from Prince Edward County Affordable Housing Corp Executive Director Chuck Dowdall that will drown out any of Thursday’s celebratory choruses at the Crystal Palace with a cacophony of alarm bells all over this bucolic ‘burgh.

“We are having a massive problem attracting physicians. What we’re hearing from our graduating physicians is, ‘With my student debt, I can’t afford to rent. I can’t afford to buy in the county.”

This is a ‘not good, the vehicle that contains the County’s human healthcare resources is about to plummet over the embankment type’ moment.

Dowdall confirmed these comments to the Gazette Tuesday afternoon and he’s well aware how physicians having a case of sticker shock over large family homes in attractive Prince Edward County looks to those folks wondering how much of a monthly bill they can tackle while still keeping food on the table.

Especially now in this inflationary economy.

The Executive Director is dedicated PECAHC’s mandates and goals and front line health workers in the hourly wage category- along with all the other hourly employment sectors, seniors, low income, etc in Prince Edward County- are very much front of mind.

But hearing potential family physicians might be deterred because of the high price of what is monikered as ‘attractive housing’ to professional sector types-Doctors, Lawyers and the like- is a very telling tale in Prince Edward County’s housing crisis.

There once was a time not so long ago where the natural splendour of Prince Edward County along with a robust Family Health Team and the promise of one day practicing family medicine in a new rural hospital was enough to lure new family doctors here. Toss in some recruitment cash to seal the deal and Prince Edward County’s physician shortage 15 years ago paled in comparison to the rest of Ontario.

It was another Chuck that more recently offered a quote that applies to the County’s situation of having all the natural beauty surrounding us and a brand new hospital to serve us and perhaps no one to staff its emergency room.

“If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything,” said NFL coach Chuck Pagano during his fight with acute promyelocytic leukemia.

Without enough family doctors to serve and look after Prince Edward County’s residents, all PEC’s glorious trappings -natural and otherwise- are for naught.

-JASON PARKS

PICTURING OUR COMMUNITY

Prince Edward County’s KASHKA, also known as Kat Burns, was one of the musical performers taking part in Wild Thing- a celebration of Prince Edward County’s biodiversity on Sunday at Benson Park. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)