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'Intense' competition pushes eastern Ontario communities to lure family doctors with cash

Addressing access to health care should be provincial responsibility, researchers say

As mayor of Quinte West, Jim Harrison says he's offered doctors everything from a boat slip to a temporary apartment in an effort to convince them to move to the city.

Although Harrison doesn't view it as a competition, he said the scarcity of doctors creates a big issue: a competitive market is pitting municipalities in Ontario against each other in creative attempts to lure family doctors.

"We've got to do everything we can to get the doctor to stay here — not just to come here," Harrison said.

Quinte West, located on the shore of Lake Ontario about 20 kilometres west of Belleville, currently offers physicians a financial incentive of $100,000 in exchange for a five-year commitment to the city.

Although no official statistics about the incentives doctors are tempted with exist in the province, multiple sources who spoke to CBC said the practice appears to be growing in eastern Ontario.

The Ontario College of Family Physicians estimates more than 2 million Ontarians are without a family doctor, and those shortages are felt more acutely in rural and remote parts of the province.

Faced with a limited supply of physicians and a suite of provincial programs that are not fully addressing gaps in rural and remote areas, municipalities are deploying resources of their own.

In many cases, that comes in the form of direct payments.

Upping the incentive

On March 28, Hastings County council voted to approve a budget that would see its physician incentive program increase from $100,000 to $150,000 for a minimum four-year commitment.

It also added another $75,000 incentive to help cover relocation costs for licensed doctors returning from elsewhere in Canada or overseas.

The county and its 14 small communities north of Belleville have been doling out the payment since 2006.



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