P.E.I. city desperate to house locum amid doctor shortage, housing crisis

A widespread doctor shortage on P.E.I. coupled with the Island’s housing crisis left one city appealing on social media for the public’s help to find accommodations for a locum doctor.

“It seems as though we’re more reliant on locums now than we’ve ever been,” said Dr. Tyler McDonell, medical director at the Prince County Hospital in Summerside, the province’s second largest city.

“But I don’t think that’s unique to PCH. I think that’s a system-wide phenomenon.”

While some departments have managed to get their staffing up, he said others are still very short — and a few currently rely solely on locums to operate.

McDonell said bringing in locums — temporary doctors from outside the province brought in to help cover off leaves and gaps in coverage — is also a good recruiting tool.

‘Really, really difficult’

Since January 2022, McDonell said the hospital has had between 50 and 60 positions that need to be filled, with 31 different doctors filling them.

But getting them here can sometimes be a challenge.

“There’s a need for locums all across the country, and these people tend to have the ability to go where they want to go,” he said. “They’re pulled in every direction.” 

‘There’s a need for locums all across the country, and these people tend to have the ability to go where they want to go,’ says Dr Tyler McDonell, medical director at Prince County Hospital. (CBC News)

And the province’s housing situation is a challenge, too.

According to the most recent data from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the vacancy rate in Summerside was 1.5 per cent in 2021 — down from the year before.

“That’s necessary for every locum that comes, they all need a place to live,” said McDonell. 

“It’s usually a doable thing … but it’s summertime, P.E.I. is busy and we’re remarkably dependent on locums — it’s become really, really difficult.” 

Asking the public for help

The City of Summerside recently took the unusual step of posting on social media asking for help in finding accommodations for one locum doctor.

“He is looking for a 1-2 bedroom, furnished, with great WIFI, and close to hospital if possible,” the post reads. “We would truly appreciate if any availabilities are out there and you could forward details.”

“It can be challenging and absolutely summertime we’re packed,” said Gordon MacFarlane, the acting CAO for Summerside.

“It’s just one of those things you try to work through and find the doctor a great spot to stay for him and the family.”

‘It takes a village’

Hospital officials tend to help find people a place to stay through word of mouth but sometimes it requires more innovative solutions. 

“I guess if it really came to it, I’d likely rent out my house,” MacFarlane said. 

“We’re going to move heaven and earth to make sure that the doctor has somewhere to live. Because they’re obviously a key part of the whole economic and health engine that makes the community run.”

The city said members of the public stepped up to find the doctor housing — welcome news since the hospital is hoping to hire him permanently. 

“It takes a village, right, to keep a system like this going,” said McDonell.   

“It’s going to take a lot of heavy lifting and a lot of creative thinking to continue to overcome the problem.”

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