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Wakefield to lose 3 MDs by summer’s end

May 8th,2024 | News

Dr. Curtis Folkerson has worked as a family physician in Wakefield for 42 years. He said he has seen dramatic changes in the healthcare system – including a growing shortage in the number of family doctors – during that time. Photo: Madeline Kerr

The number of Hills’ residents without a family doctor is expected to rise, and the shortage “won’t get better any time soon,” according to a long-time Wakefield physician.

There are already over 6,000 residents in the region waiting for a family doctor – and 72,000 in the Outaouais, according to the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de l’Outaouais (CISSSO). 

Last fall, Dr. Amani Ben Moussa, who was practising at the Clinique médicale des Collines in Wakefield, left to join a private practice in Gatineau. And in the coming months, two family doctors who have both served the community since the 1980s, Dr. Curtis Folkerson and Dr. Gary Satenstein, will retire without a plan to be replaced. 

While the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de l’Outaouais (CISSSO) said that it could not confirm how many people are affected by the departure of these doctors, Dr. Folkerson recently told the Low Down that he has well over 600 patients on his active caseload. 

He estimated that his colleague, Dr. Satenstein, has more than 700 patients in his care. 

These patients will soon be doctorless, although Folkerson explained that the clinic is trying to accommodate the roughly 1,400 individuals left without a family doctor by offering them appointments with other MDs at the clinic if available. 

“It’s not going to get better any time soon,” Dr. Folkerson told the Low Down. He said that his decision to retire after 42 years at the Wakefield Family Medical Centre was a difficult one, but he said he believes that even if he were to wait a few more years, there still wouldn’t be anyone available to replace him. 

The reasons for the shortage, Folkerson explained, are wide-ranging and can be traced, at least in part, to the federal budgetary deficits of the 1990s. 

He explained that cuts to transfer payments led provinces to slash healthcare spending, which resulted in fewer doctors being trained at universities like McGill, leaving a dearth of family doctors for generations to come. 

Folkerson said rising administrative obligations – too much red tape, in other words – and the need to pass French language exams have also added to the shortage. 

Plus, medical professionals can usually expect to earn more across the border in Ontario, making western Quebec especially susceptible to losing trained doctors. 

Camille Brochu-Lafrance, a spokesperson for the CISSSO said one resource for patients who are without a doctor is the Primary Care Access Point, known as GAP, which helps Quebecers find health services even if they don’t have a doctor. 

“[This] will be the entry point for people who have lost their family doctor. The GAP assesses the person’s needs and makes an appointment with the right professional depending on the person’s condition,” Brochu-Lafrance said. 

The average waiting time for patients registered with the Quebec Family Doctor Finder (GAMF) in the MRC des Collines is 575 days, or over a year and a half, CISSSO reported. 

However, anecdotally, some individuals told the Low Down that they are left waiting much longer. Recently, Liberal MP for Pontiac Kitigan Zibi, Sophie Chatel, who lives in Gatineau, said she has personally been waiting 10 years for a family doctor. 

The shortage of family doctors is dire province-wide: According to the Montreal Gazette, around 40 physicians left the public network in Quebec last year, contributing to the shortage of more than 1,200 family doctors. Even worse, a quarter of all family doctors in the province are already over the age of 60, suggesting there will be a surge of retirements in the decade to come.

A spokesperson for the CISSSO said that “the regional department of general medicine (DRMG) in collaboration with doctors from each of the local service networks (RLS), is in the process of continuous recruitment. A team is dedicated to medical recruitment.” 

The spokesperson affirmed: “If a candidate is interested in a practice in the RLS des Collines, [they] will be welcomed without delay.”

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At the Low Down, we are passionate about delivering quality local news to Gatineau Hills residents. But passion alone cannot pay the bills.

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