Kiiwetinoong MPP, Sol Mamakwa is calling on the provincial government to find a solution to physician staffing shortages in the region.

Last weekend, the Red Lake Margaret Cochenour Hospital emergency room had to close its doors due to a local physician shortage and leave its community without emergency room coverage.

“This government must address the access to basic emergency medical care for northerners in Red Lake and in all of Northwestern Ontario,” said Mamakwa.

“Many physicians find it daunting to work in small hospitals where obtaining basic diagnostic services such as CT scans have to be done off-site,” added Mamakwa.

As a result of the emergency room closure, those that needed emergency care were redirected to the Dryden Regional Health Centre 216 kilometres southeast.

Red Lake Mayor, Fred Mota responded to the closure saying it's unacceptable and it affects more than just Red Lake.

“Red Lake Margaret Cochenour Memorial Hospital's Emergency Department services not only Red Lake, Ear Falls, and the surrounding area, but also our neighbouring First Nations communities, including Wabauskang First Nation and Pikangikum First Nation. Red Lake is a remote community - 220 km away from the nearest hospital offering emergency services,” said Mota.

Minister of Health and Deputy Premier, Christine Elliott said no immediate air transport was needed, but two ambulances were needed to take patients to Dryden.

“The situation has been rectified for the present and Ontario will continue its efforts to find coverage and build up resiliency through the provinces Locum program,” noted Elliott.

The Ontario Physician Locum Programs (OPLP) provides centralized and coordinated locum physician assistance for hospitals, communities, and physicians across the province.

OPLP also offers advisory and information services to hospitals, communities, and physicians to promote local solutions for physician coverage.

Through the OPLP the province will provide Emergency Department, Northern Specialist, and Rural Family Medicine programs.

Mamakwa says that over half of the physicians at Red Lake’s hospital are from the Locum program and are from southern Ontario.

“Scheduling is precarious and one missed flight or a sick day for physicians forces the small complement of physicians to cover these shifts or risk closing the hospital's emergency department.”

Mamakwa noted last week, the Ford government voted against the NDP’s motion to fund a plan to attract, train, and retain nurses, physicians, and specialists in Northern Ontario.

Elliott says that the physician shortage is the result of the previous Liberal government capping medical school seats in Ontario.

To rectify the situation the province Elliott says Ontario is adding 160 undergraduate and 295 post-graduate seats in the next five years, which is the largest expansion in medical schools in the last 10 years.

The Northern Ontario School of Medicine will receive 41 under-graduates and 30 post-graduate seats.
Ontario ranks seventh among Canadian provinces in the number of family doctors per 100,000 patients, and the shortage is made worse in northern and rural areas, according to data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

They add that Ontario spends an average of 8 per cent less on healthcare per capita than any other province in Canada outside of British Columbia.