Wheatley, Ont.’s only family doctor retires, putting future of care in question

The upcoming retirement of Wheatley’s longtime doctor is cause for concern for many of the more than 1,400 people who call him their family doctor and calls into question the future of medical care in the South West community. of Ontario.

« Now the problem is here – it’s time to go, » said Dr David Eaton’s assistant Nancy Plumb. “Are we going to forget the elderly?

Plumb said Eaton has been providing services in the community for 47 years and most of the clients at the clinic where he works are over 65 and need services close to home. He is expected to retire on December 31.

« It’s not that easy for them to find transportation to get to Windsor, Leamington [or] Tilbury, » Plumb said. « I don’t think a community is suffering like Wheatley. »

Canada, in general, faces a shortage of family physicians as fewer medical graduates choose family medicine, « after witnessing the rising expectations placed on family practices without appropriate resources and the resulting physician burnout,” the College of Family Physicians of Canada noted on its website. Compounding the shortage is the fact that some physicians are choosing to retire earlier than expected, in part due to burnout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Eaton’s case, he has been trying to organize his retirement for a while, waiting to see if there will be a replacement, but at the moment there is no succession plan, according to his daughter, Hope Eaton. She spoke on behalf of her father, who did not want to speak to CBC News due to his frustration with the case.

“We continue to encounter roadblocks where we find out there is no funding or the area is not considered underserved because we are part of Chatham-Kent, or Chatham proper has enough doctors, so the county, in many ways, gets forgotten,” said Hope Eaton, adding that her father had postponed his retirement out of responsibility to his patients.

Dr. David Eaton’s daughter, Hope Eaton, says he’s been trying to plan for retirement for three years, but they continue to run into obstacles. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

« There is definitely a need here that, if he left, will not be met. I think that’s a big concern for him and a big concern for a lot of his patients. »

Hopes at least for nurse practitioners

The Municipality of Chatham-Kent has a physician recruitment task force, in Wheatley and elsewhere. According to the board. Melissa Harrigan, those attempts were unsuccessful, and currently 20,000 people in Chatham-Kent do not have a family doctor.

« You only get one chance a year to recruit the graduates coming out of medical school, and we know the requirement rate is starting to outpace the graduation rate, » Harrigan said.

« Incoming doctors don’t want as big of a practice as outgoing doctors. »

Harrigan said there is a waiting list for family doctors that people can join, and they can also ask doctors’ offices in nearby communities if they are accepting new patients. Yet many people still do not have a family doctor.

Dr David Eaton's office in Wheatley town center
Dr Eaton’s office is in downtown Wheatley, near where an explosion rocked the town last summer. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

« If you don’t have a family doctor, you don’t get proactive health care – those annual checkups, prescription refills – those things that you need to stay healthy and keep yourself from going to the hospital. »

Wheatley town center is still partially closed due to last summer’s blast. Harrigan said she hopes a plan moving forward for this area will include health services.

« For our aging communities in a small town, access to health services and primary care is so important, » she said.

Plumb said that if it is not possible to find a doctor to cover the area, it is hoped that nurse practitioners can take over the clinic, but requests for funding from the Ontario government have not been met. satisfied.

“Does the government want the 1,400 patients to go to the [hospital] Emergencies to get the service done? » Plumb said. « We need help. We need answers and we need them now. »

No doctor ‘a big problem’, says 92-year-old

Leonard H. Omstead, 92, has long had Eaton as his family doctor. Omstead said while it wouldn’t be difficult for him to access services in the community, as he is still able to drive, others are not in the same situation.

« There are a lot of people in their 75s and 80s who can’t drive because of their eyesight or for whatever reason, » Omstead said, adding that he liked the idea of ​​having an office. nurse practitioner in the city.

« A nurse practitioner can at least give prescriptions, and what are people with high blood pressure who can’t get their medications going to do? And then there are people with diabetes mellitus – at least one practitioner could get away with it. to occupy.

« It’s a big problem that needs to be addressed, » Omstead added.

CBC has reached out to the Ontario government for comment, but as of mid-afternoon Wednesday there has been no response.

In an emailed statement to CBC News on Friday, the Ministry of Health said people in Ontario without a primary care provider or family doctor can enroll in the voluntary Health Care Connect program.

“The program prioritizes enrollees for referral based on their health care needs, and those with complex or urgent health care needs are considered high priority,” the statement said.


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