County of Stettler approves physician recruitment incentive

Written by Stu Salkeld

Stettler county council approved a formal physician recruitment incentive and during discussion agreed prosperous communities need plenty of good doctors. The resolution was passed at the May 10 regular meeting of council.

Councillors heard a presentation by Director of Municipal Services Andrew Brysiuk regarding the physician recruitment and retention policy, noting that the county has actually been offering incentives for about 20 years in one form or another and sometimes in the past it was done on an ad hoc basis.

He stated county council has placed an emphasis on physician recruitment and retention and this policy would formalize an incentive.

Brysiuk did point out the policy is discretionary and every time it’s awarded it must be approved by council.

“Up to and including 2019, the Town (of Stettler) and the county partnered on funding physicians with the (Stettler Regional) Board of Trade (BOT) typically coordinated the process,” stated Brysiuk’s memo to council.

“Since the town has withdrawn from funding physicians, the County of Stettler has identified that we need a policy detailing the procedure to be followed to apply for funding.

“The county will work with community partners, including the BOT and Stettler physicians, to identify and attract new physicians to the community.

“Ideally, the county would prefer to have an opportunity to connect with potential physicians to advocate the benefits of our community.”

Brysiuk stated the policy formalizes a cash incentive for physicians who choose to practice in Stettler.

“Once a physician identifies that they would like to establish their practice in our community, they will apply to the county in writing, and such application will be considered at the next regular council meeting.

“Council has the full discretion on who to fund, how much to fund, and where to source the funding – recognizing that each application has unique considerations.

Previously, recommendations were made by a joint doctor recruitment committee between the town and the county, however, that committee does not exist in the same form anymore.

Traditionally, the county has funded doctors planning to open a clinical medical practice and participate in the emergency room rotation, however, the proposed policy opens the door to considering applications from specialists.

“A physician who is awarded funding shall enter into an agreement with the county to stay for five years. If the physician leaves before the second anniversary of their start date, they will be required to return the full amount of the incentive.

Leaving between the second and fifth anniversaries would require the physician to return a pro-rated amount of the incentive,” added Brysiuk.

The staff memo noted council previously granted a $20,000 financial incentive to physicians, but the policy gives councillors the ability to award more or less.
Coun. Les Stulberg stated the policy had several strong points.

“I really like this doctor recruitment policy for two reasons,” said Stulberg, noting it helps ensure county residents have access to doctors in their own community and attracts people to town.

Coun. James Nibourg agreed, adding this policy is a good example of the efforts the County of Stettler is making to attract and retain doctors.

Coun. Ernie Gendre asked if more cooperation can be planned with the BOT but it was pointed out the BOT is a Town of Stettler department and may not necessarily be involved in physician recruitment.

Coun. Dave Grover stated at the end of the day, the incentive works out to about $4,000 per year which is a reasonable amount to attract a doctor, adding it’s paid off in the past. “We’ve had pretty good luck with this program,” said Grover.

Coun. Justin Stevens added that he would go even further and state that communities that don’t attract and retain physicians will suffer and possibly decline.

Councillors unanimously approved the physician recruitment. and retention policy.

Stu Salkeld
Local Journalism Initiative reporter
ECA Review

About the author

Stu Salkeld

Stu Salkeld, who has upwards of 28 years of experience in the Alberta community newspaper industry, is now covering councils and other news in the Stettler region and has experience working in the area as well.

He has joined the ECA Review as a Local Journalism Initiative Journalist.

Stu earned his two-year diploma in print journalism from SAIT in Calgary from 1993 to ’95 and was raised in Oyen, Alta., one of the communities within the ECA Review’s coverage area.