Recruiter addresses Kenora’s health care crisis

Anneke Gillis

Recruiters working for communities is nothing new, but the program in Kenora differs from most in two ways: it is a joint effort between several local organizations and its mandate includes allied health professionals, not just physicians.

“It is unique in that the casting of the net is a little bigger and broader,” said Anneke Gillis, healthcare recruiter for the Kenora area.

(Gillis herself is a transplant – sort of. She is originally from Winnipeg, but summered in Kenora since she was 12. She moved to Kenora full-time at the end of this summer.)

“Physicians won’t come if you don’t have the allied health professionals in place as well. The number one question residents ask me is, ‘What supports are in place?’”

The Kenora Area Health Care Recruitment and Retention Strategy Project was launched in response to an ongoing health care crisis.

Gillis said the crisis is due to two main factors: the number of physicians who will be retiring in the coming years and the recent designation of Kenora as a District Health Campus by the North West LHIN under its Integrated Service Delivery Model.

In response, the City of Kenora, Lake of the Woods District Hospital, Local Education Group, Sunset Country Family Health Team, Waasegiizhig Nanaandawe’iyewigamig Health Access Centre (WNHAC), and the Kenora Chiefs Advisory formed a partnership in 2015 to address the crisis.

“We are a complex environment, a health care campus servicing 10 additional First Nations plus the unorganized territory of Kenora area. We have the largest hospital in northwestern Ontario next to Thunder Bay,” Gillis said.

Health care services in Kenora provide care for an estimated 32,000 to 50,000 year-round residents; that shoots up to about 70,000 during the summer months.

Gillis has her master’s in family social sciences, helped with the initial research and was hired as the project’s recruiter last year.

From the physician perspective, the “complex environment” means there are more – and more varied – opportunities in Kenora. Currently the priorities are GP anaesthetists, family medicine, and emergency physicians. There is overlap; many doctors in Kenora, just as in other smaller communities, provide services in a wide area of medicine.

“I tell prospective physicians that medicine here is complex. You are going to use all of your skills. It’s going to be interesting – you’re never going to feel like you are not using everything that you learned,” said Gillis.

To address short-term needs, Gillis has also developed a locum pool system, which has also become an informal recruitment tool.

“That’s our word of mouth. If they have a really great experience… it’s putting Kenora in the minds of young grads and new doctors,” she said.

Lifestyle, of course, is another big draw. Gillis calls Kenora “Muskoka with an edge” with world-class outdoor activities.

Economically, positions in Kenora offer “comparable and competitive” compensation with a lower overall cost of living, including dramatically lower real estate costs.

“For what you would pay $2 million (in Muskoka), you would pay $900,000 here. And it’s gorgeous, straight out of a magazine,” Gillis said.

Social media is playing a large role in recruitment. It has helped dispel some myths and create a positive energy to let the community know about recruitment efforts. It has also provided some recruitment leads and prompted offers of support from the community.

“We have the Rotary Club that reaches out and takes individuals on fishing trips and fish fries. Those kinds of things all come from social media.”

A social media campaign directed at health care professionals will be launching shortly as well.

Overall, the recruitment efforts have been positive, Gillis said. The first year was meant to lay the groundwork for future activities but already the project has recruited an internal medicine specialist and a physical therapist, and has hosted several other site visits.

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