As Dr. Jocelyn Cormier prepares to close his family practice in the coming weeks, he is focused on two things: seeing as many patients as he can, and looking for solutions to keep his patients off the physician wait list.
“Some of the steps I’ve been doing is I reached out to the minister of health, reached out to our medical director, the RHA, really looking at any new physicians that are starting [to see] if there’s any openness to take on a cluster of patients,” Cormier said.
“I’ll be participating in the health link to try and give a certain continuity, to be able to follow some of these patients, but it’s proving to be quite a challenge to get everyone primary care access.”
Cormier is taking on a full-time hospital position with Horizon Health Network starting in July. While this is a better fit from a family, scheduling and flexibility point of view, he said it was a difficult decision to make.
The physician has been working as a family doctor in the Moncton area for eight years and has between 1,500 and 1,600 patients. These patients may be added to the list of New Brunswickers without a family doctor.
“I gave maybe some leads, some suggestions, things I thought about as incentives and was quite disappointed to get a copy pasted answer on behalf of the minister’s office,” said Cormier.
Cormier has also tried to find a doctor to take over his practice or to take on some of his patients. This has proven challenging, which he said is likely because there is not enough support for new doctors right now.
“I think one thing that would be important is that new doctors know, especially family doctors, know that they have support in their practice like health support, resources… not that they’re managing every aspect of their practice and can focus on patient care,” he said.
Cormier said that increasing administrative and nursing support and reducing paperwork would improve family doctors working conditions and allow them to spend more time caring for their patients.
When Cormier took over the practice back in 2015, he said there was a Medicare program that had funding for a registered nurse, which no longer exists. The physician said he’d like to see the province use its health funding from the federal government to better support family medicine.
“I’d like to see something that applies to family care that a family doctor and practice could say tomorrow ‘this helps me.’ I haven’t seen that yet,” said Cormier.
CTV News reached out to the Department of Health to inquire about Cormier’s request for help, but the department instead referred to existing health care work in the province.
“The 2023-24 provincial budget allocates $39.2 million to support improved access to primary health care,” the department said in a statement.
“An additional investment includes $29.7 million to help address recruitment and retention challenges… For the 2022-23 fiscal year, the department welcomed 119 doctors to the province, while seeing 105 leave their positions, for a net gain of 14 physicians.”
In terms of what a doctor should do if they’re closing their practice, the department said physicians should reach out to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick and the New Brunswick Medical Society.
Cormier said he also sent his concerns to Liberal leader Susan Holt and Green Party leader David Coon in hopes of increasing pressure on the province.
“I do believe that I do have a voice, I do believe that I have an important role, I do believe that I have an influence so I think it was important for me to try to use it and I will continue to try to do that for sure,” he said.
However, with his practice closing date quickly approaching, many of his patients will end up without a family doctor – a situation that Patrick Murray knows all too well.
“It’s a huge fear,” Murray said.
“What I’m starting to do now is bring all my pertinent papers to every single [appointment] because having all your history, that’s the issue when you go to some of these walk-in clinics.”
Murray said he is dealing with several ongoing issues, including a brain injury from a cross country skiing accident in 2021.
Since losing his primary physician in May 2022, Murray said he has had to advocate for himself to access care.
“Not having access to a doctor and kind of having to forge my own way,” he said.
Murray said he believes family doctors should be paid more for their work.
Cathy Rogers is also losing her family doctor in the coming weeks.
“What really bothers me is we know this was coming for many many years,” Rogers said.
“We’ve known there was going to be a shortage in the health care labor force.”
She said it’s concerning to see what appears to be a high number of family physicians leaving the field or retiring in a short period of time.
Rogers said she wants to remain optimistic, she is worried that things are going to get worse.
“I feel like we haven’t hit rock bottom yet. I feel like it’s still going to get worse because we’re not acting fast enough. We have not been acting fast enough,” she said.
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