KRHB hires Med-Emerg to seek new doctors

The Keewatin Regional Health Board has hired Med-Emerg International to recruit top-dollar doctors for the Kivalliq region with salaries ranging from $170,000-$203,000 a year, plus numerous perks and benefits.

By JIM BELL

IQALUIT If you’ve got an M.D. and a family practioner’s certificate, an Ontario-based company called Med-Emerg International has a lucrative job for you in Rankin Inlet.

Med-Emerg International is best known for a $500,000 sole-source contract that the GNWT handed out to them in 1996 for a sweeping report on the NWT’s health care system.

But Med-Emerg is now working for the Keewatin Regional Health Board to help them recruit at least three family doctors who will work and live in the Kivalliq region.

An advertisment published by Med-Emerg in the August 15 issue of the Canadian Medical Association’s magazine states that “[t]his position offers an extremely progressive salary to include all professional membership and licensing fees.”

This week, a Nunatsiaq News reporter posing as a doctor looking for a job called one of the phone numbers listed in the CMA ad to ask about salary and benefits.

Up to 200 grand a year

A man called Jay Orchard responded to the call within 10 minutes.

“The salary range, to be quite up front, is quite a range,” Orchard said. “It’s between 170 and 203 [thousands of dollars a year]. Everything from licence travel to CME is covered. There’s even an accomodations allowance. It even gets to the point where they’ll move most of your articles up there.”

Orchard said Med-Emerg has already hired one doctor to work in the Keewatin, but is looking for more.

And he said the new doctors hired by the board would live in Rankin Inlet, but also travel to the eight communities that the Keewatin health board is responsible for.

“They do have eight health centres in which the board operates. You may be asked to go to these different centres from time to time,” Orchard said.

“Repatration” proceeds

Hiring new doctors to live and work in the Keewatin region is consistent with plans announced earlier this summer by Elizabeth Palfrey, the chair of the Keewatin health board.

In explaining why the health board is ending its longstanding health care contract with the J.A. Hildes Northern Medical Unit (NMU) at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Palfrey said the board wants to use its money to “repatriate” medical services to the Keewatin region.

Part of that repatriation plan means that the health board will go out and hire its own doctors, rather than having them provided by the NMU.

As well, under the GNWT health care report prepared by Med-Emerg, Rankin Inlet will get a hospital, the construction of which is expected to start next year.

NMU paid less

Meanwhile, Dr. Sharon Macdonald, the director of the NMU, said this week that the salaries offered by the Keewatin board to newly-hired doctors are “8 to 25 per cent higher” than those offered by her organization.

“On the surface of it, it appears they are paying a higher salary,” Macdonald said.

She said that under the NMU’s previous contract three years ago, their physicians would have started at a salary of around $110,000 a year, ranging up to $156,000 a year.

Macdonald said she can’t explain how it is that the Keewatin board is able to pay more money to its directly-hired physicians, when it turned down an NMU proposal under which doctors would have been paid less.

“I sure hope Med-Emerg isn’t charging them much for recruiting,” Macdonald said. “It’s a little odd, isn’t it?”

When Kivallivik MLA Kevin O’Brien issued a call to NWT Commissioner Helen Maksagak two weeks ago for a public inquiry into the Keewatin health board, he blasted Med-Emerg’s work.

A few weeks ago as well, Yellowknife South MLA Seamus Henry blasted the $500,000 Med-Emerg report, saying it’s useful only as a “doorstop.”

Meanwhile, the Kivalliq Inuit Association says an internal bureaucratic “review” of the Keewatin health board’s decision to end its relationship with the NMU ordered last week by Health Minister Kelvin Ng is “unsatisfactory.”

A KIA press release says the organization still wants a public inquiry. The KIA is also looking into the idea of getting a judge to review the legality of the KRHB’s actions.

As of Nunatsiaq News press-time this week, NWT Commissioner Helen Maksagak still hadn’t responded to O’Brien’s call for a public inquiry.

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