A quarter of Yarmouth residents are on the waiting list for a GP
Officials in the Yarmouth, NS area say despite larger waiting lists for GPs there are signs that access to care is becoming easier.
As of March 2019, 3.5 per cent of the population (873 people) in the Yarmouth Zone were on the waiting list for a GP. That is now 25.8 percent (6,402) as the province grapples with a healthcare system under immense strain.
According to Nova Scotia Health’s February report, Yarmouth has the largest percentage of residents on the province’s GP waiting list.
Rebecca Cassidy is the Community Navigator for the Yarmouth Area Healthcare Professional Recruitment Partnership. Her job is to lure doctors to Yarmouth and help them settle into their new life in the southwestern Nova Scotia town.
Cassidy said that while 41 new hires have been made since March 2019, 20 have left for reasons such as retirement or relocation.
“I’d like to think we’re going up the hill, so to speak,” she said.
Cassidy said that alongside the net gain in doctors – which include GPs and specialists – there are other initiatives that she believes will help improve access to care in Yarmouth.
She said a primary care clinic recently opened at a Main Street pharmacy, there are some new walk-in weekend clinics in the city, and the province has announced some virtual care options.
“But again, these aren’t programs that … have anything to do with my project other than make my job easier,” she said.
As a community navigator, Cassidy’s all-encompassing role takes recruits on tours of the area, organizes events for existing ones — like a pottery night or a trip to the Tusket Islands — or even speaks to a class of high school students who are considering it Health is seen as a career option.
While Cassidy has served in the Community Navigator position since September 2019, her position has been extended by three years.
City Renews Funding for Community Navigator
Yarmouth City Council recently voted unanimously to continue funding the post. Cassidy’s position is paid for by a total of seven organizations.
Mayor Pam Mood says she’s heard anecdotally from people that finding a GP is getting better and better. But she said that was little comfort to those still struggling to get care.
“If you don’t have a doctor, it doesn’t matter what’s done,” Mood said. “And that’s the riddle.”
Andrew Sidock has been without a family doctor for around three years. The 31-year-old teacher and married father of one said among his peers and peers he didn’t know anyone who had a family doctor.
“Obviously that leads to a build-up of other health issues and because you don’t have access to that routine health care, you don’t necessarily treat yourself the way you should,” the Yarmouth man said.
He needs mental health care and had a stroke in January.
Sidock said not having access to regular care means he sometimes resorts to home remedies to fix something.
“I just ignore it until the problem becomes something I can’t ignore anymore, and then I think it’s worth waiting maybe 12 to 14 hours in an emergency room to have it treated,” Sidock said .
Sheri Needham lives near Darlings Lake, NS. She and most of her family have been without a family doctor for 4½ years.
Needham, who has diabetes, receives prescription refills through virtual care from a Halifax clinic.
“It’s great that we have this resource so we don’t have to sit around for 12 hours [at the emergency room] just to have a prescription refilled, but at the same time there is no follow-up, there is no continuity of care,” she said.
Needham is concerned that health issues are going undiagnosed, particularly in the case of her 82-year-old mother, who lives with her and her family.
waiting for care
Needham said she received a call about five months ago from someone who works with the GP registry. The caller said a nurse or doctor would be settling in Yarmouth, but Needham hasn’t heard from since.
She estimates that she has had six family doctors in the last 19 years.
“You just start getting somewhere with them and then they’re gone and you have to start all over again with a new doctor, so I think the recruitment is great, but the retention would be even better,” she said.
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