By Rebecca dePencier
This article was originally published as part of The Novel Times on December 11 2020, and can still be found at this link: https://cusjc.ca/noveltimes/2020/12/11/in-ottawa-a-long-wait-for-a-family-doctor-brings-extra-hurdles-in-pandemic/
OTTAWA — Sebastien Plante started looking for a doctor before he graduated from Carleton University.
“Four years later, they still hadn’t found me anything,” he said.
Plante has multiple chronic illnesses and needs blood work done regularly. Someone recommended that he register for Health Care Connect, a program meant to connect Ontario residents who don’t have a primary care physician with a family doctor or nurse practitioner who is accepting new patients.
Demand for that program has skyrocketed over the past four years. The number of patients on the waiting list for a referral in the Ottawa region has quadrupled since 2017, according to data obtained by the provincial ministry of health.
There were 6,000 people on the list four years ago. Now, there are nearly 26,000.
Plante, like many in the city, relies on his local walk-in clinic for care.
“I’ve been going there for my blood work and whatnot to make sure that I don’t die,” he said.
A long search for a family doctor is not unusual in the capital region, said Dr. Andrew Stewart, who started his practice here three years ago.
“My schedule filled up very quickly with people looking for a doctor,” said Stewart. “A lot of people told me that they had been waiting upwards of two years to find a family physician.”
Stewart has concerns about patients who rely on care from walk-in clinics, particularly during the pandemic. He said his patients have had three years to get to know him and build trust. They’re more likely to reach out when they need him.
“It’s hard to emotionally open up to a walk-in doctor who you don’t know,” said Stewart. “I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. I’m sure walk-in physicians also deal with a lot of mental health issues. But it’s probably not as easy for people to share their stresses and seek out the treatments that they might need in a particularly stressful time.”
The problem is not just limited to Plante. Community Facebook groups and the Ottawa Reddit page are rife with people searching for a family doctor. There is even a realtor website that warns newcomers to the city that it can sometimes be a challenge to find doctors taking new patients in Ottawa.
Despite many people speaking openly about the difficulty, data from the Canadian Institute of Health Information does not reflect the problem. The Champlain Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), which represents Ottawa and the surrounding area, has had the second or third highest ratio of family doctors to population for 15 years.
“One has to go beyond just the pure numbers,” said Douglas Angus, a retired health policy and economics professor at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management. “When you take a look at the quantity of positions available, it looks pretty good. So the puzzle then becomes why are people having difficulty getting access to a family physician?”
“Physicians are just not going to work the kind of hours that they did previously,” he said. “They’re probably not going to be accepting as many patients as might have been the situation, as say, a decade ago.”
A similar issue was recently raised in Parliament by MPP Ian Arthur regarding the city of Kingston. The province designated the municipality as a “non-high needs community” despite recent data collected by the city that suggests 23 per cent of its residents do not have a primary care practitioner.
Arthur said that in a study of 312 Kingston family physicians, 173 did not practise family medicine in the community. Those doctors were engaged in different varieties of practice, such as teaching, research, student health, or subspecialties of family medicine such as long-term care.
But there is hope. Plante recently made a list of all the family doctors within walking distance of his apartment.
“And as it happened, the very first place I called said that they were taking new patients,” he said. “They took my name and my health card number. And immediately, they were like ‘Okay, you’re a patient.’”
After four long years, Plante’s search for a doctor is over.
By Rebecca dePencier
This article was originally published as part of CUSJC's America Votes on November 3 2020, and can still be found at this link: https://americavotes2020.cusjc.ca/georgia/
On Oct. 16, Gabrielle Seunagal got to the Republican rally in Macon, Ga. seven hours early. She knew it was going to be busy and she didn’t want to miss a thing.
Seunagal is a freelance writer and SEO copywriter. She grew up in Southfield, Mich. and has been living in Georgia for the better part of four years, moving there shortly after she graduated from high school in 2016.
“I was not raised Republican at all,” said Seunagal. She grew up in a family of Democrats, but by high school she knew her ideologies and worldviews were right of centre on the political spectrum.
Georgia has become one of the biggest battleground states in the 2020 election. The state has 16 electoral votes and for the first time in over 20 years, there is the potential for many of them to go Democrat. Trump and Biden have been neck and neck in the polls leading up to election day.
The main issues for voters include the economy and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but even just the ability to vote is on everyone’s minds as the state is known for voter suppression.
“Seeing the way that the virus has been responded to has just really amplified for me the importance of the policy issue, versus the identity politics angle of who’s more likely to be Republican [or] a Democrat,” said Seunagal.
Seunagal has been interested in policy since high school, when she supported U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a candidate for the Republican nomination in 2016.
“I really liked his views on lower taxes, and just really empowering people to make their own decisions, free of government intervention,” she said.
When U.S. President Donald Trump was selected, she started listening to him and found that she “really did agree with him more often than not.”
Seeing the president speak in Macon was not what cinched her vote though. She had already cast her vote for Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and “pretty much anyone with an R next to their name” four days earlier.
“I really do think an economic re-opening is the best call,” she said. “When it comes to the government telling people, ‘You can’t run your business, you have to be shut down,’ I just so vehemently disagree with that.”
Amelia Davis, a Georgia resident who voted for Joe Biden, agrees that the economy must reopen but unlike Seunagal, she wants masks mandated.
“I think that we should re-open our economy and our businesses, because we need to thrive, we need to live,” said Davis. “If I need to go shopping at the post office, I want to rely on the fact that it’s open for business and that when I go in, masks are mandated, there’s hand sanitizer available for my use.”
Seunagal said not mandating masks or enforcing closures is why she’s Team Trump. She said she feels Georgia businesses have been hurt by the lockdowns, and that the choice to re-open should be in the hands of the business owners, not the government.
“I definitely understand the impulse to want to stop the spread of the virus. But at the same time, I don’t believe that a one–size–fits–all lockdown is the answer,” she said.
On the morning of election day, Seunagal is still sure the state will yield a Republican win. In an email, she says “I definitely feel positive. Not at all nervous, but I’m just truly convinced that Trump is going to win this thing.”
There was concern in the state Tuesday morning when voting machines went down across Spalding County. Many were quick to label it voter suppression. But at 9:30 am, a representative from the Sheriff’s Office said they were running again.
Seunagal said in the email that she’d seen news about the situation on Facebook but that she doesn’t believe it constitutes voter suppression. “I still believe that early voting weeks ahead of this election is a testament that voter suppression is not an issue.”
For the remainder of the day, she is following along with news of the election and is “looking forward to the Trump 2020 win.”