Source: Saltwire – Atlantic Canada.
YARMOUTH, NS – Invited members of the community got a first glimpse inside a home on Vancouver Street in Yarmouth that will house medical residents, medical learners and visiting doctors as part of the ongoing effort to recruit more physicians to the region.
But what they really saw is what happens when a community sets a goal and works together to achieve it.
“I would like to welcome everyone here today for this long-awaited celebration,” said Rick Doucette, CEO of Coastal Financial Credit Union, during a Nov. 4 grand opening event. “It’s a celebration of what can be done when a community comes together.”
That coming together was evident by the lengthy thank you list extended to individuals, physicians, medical staff, organizations, businesses, contractors and others.
Like everything, this project had a beginning.
Doucette recalled being at a regional AGM of credit union directors in 2019 where a presentation on community involvement was given. A colleague leaned over to him and said, ‘We have to do something big in our community.’
It was a challenge too important to pass up.
About two months later, the Yarmouth and Area Chamber of Commerce announced it was sponsoring a doctor recruitment program. At Coastal Financial Credit Union, this resonated.
Said Doucette, “We thought, this could be our something big.”
As part of its doctor recruitment research, the chamber and its community navigator Rebecca Cassidy – through discussions with those in the medical community – learned that housing was often a barrier. It’s expensive to cover expenses to study and work in communities when you’re also paying those expenses back home as well. International doctors moving in also often can’t secure financing right away.
A big ask
And so, Coastal Financial Credit Union purchased a home on Vancouver Street within walking distance of the Yarmouth Regional Hospital that could be used for housing.
It had asked its directors to allow the credit union to invest a million dollars in the community to achieve this housing goal and to support the recruitment effort.
“By far it was the largest ask of our directors . . . but interestingly enough, it was also the easiest ask in my 28 years,” Doucette said.
Coastal Financial Credit Union board chair Raymond Doucette said it was an easy sell, because it was so important. The first discussion took place in September 2019. Within a month, the credit union had the funding approval to move forward.
“It was a big ask, but the easiest decision the board made,” he said.
But the home they purchased and first envisioned to be used as a residence told a different story – one of deterioration and problems that would prove extremely costly to repair.
In other words, it was a money pit.
It was decided the money for the project would be better spent by tearing down the old house and going with new construction instead.
Garian Construction built the new house, which contains several residential units.
‘It’s amazing how far we’ve come’
While Coastal Financial covered the cost of the house 100 per cent, provincial and municipal funding was provided for the chamber’s doctor recruitment project. The Town of Yarmouth and the municipalities of Yarmouth, Argyle and Barrington are funding partners of the chamber’s recruitment initiative. The Municipality of Clare has been supportive too.
At the Nov. 4 grand opening celebration, the keys of the home were officially turned over from the credit union to the chamber of commerce, as was the annual $1 lease payment the chamber will pay to the credit union. The chamber will act as the landlord.
Chamber president Kerry Muise – who in the days leading up to the event was busy putting together furniture, stuffing pillows and making beds – was both beaming and emotional.
“What a big day this is,” she said. “It’s amazing how far we’ve come and how fast.”
Muise said part of the definition of a co-op is people who collectively work together to better their surrounding environment.
“I don’t think Coastal Financial could have acted or exemplified a better way of doing that than this project,” she said. The credit union, which has 7,000 members, invested its profits to fund this important community asset, which is aptly being called Credit Union Place.
“You are bettering our community. You are bettering our health care community. And you’re also inspiring other communities to work in a similar manner,” Muise said.
The cost of staying here will be affordable. Medical students will be charged $10 per night. Locums (visiting physicians) can rent a room for $500 per week. For medical residents, the cost is $1,200 per month, including utilities.
So much gratitude
Muise gave accolades to local physicians and members of the medical community who provided assistance, advice and guidance for this home project and doctor recruitment – in addition to others the list includes Dr. Abir Hussein, Dr. Shelagh Leahey, Dr. Tyler Green, Dr. Harold Cook and Dr. Brian Moses (who Muise described as their Yarmouth Background Jedi Knight Doctor, a description too good not to mention).
Muise also thanked the Yarmouth Hospital Foundation for its belief in, and support of, their physician recruitment efforts.
Dr. Hussein, the post graduate site director for the South West Nova teaching site, calls the new house a great asset.
“This will attract students, medical learners and residents to the area. It’s a wonderful asset for recruitment,” she said. “This is just more evidence as to how wonderful this community is and how it can come together to recruit doctors, physicians, residents and learners.”
Noted Rick Doucette, “Our mandate as a credit union is to help our communities thrive. We feel the community can’t thrive without strong health-care infrastructure.”
Asked about recruitment efforts, community navigator Rebecca Cassidy said the work is ongoing.
“Although our needs have increased since the project began in 2019, we are still on a positive trend of gaining more physicians than we are losing,” she said. “It will be a long-term project to be able to secure enough medical availability within our system for our community and we are on task for that.”
Dalhousie Family Medicine Resident Dr. Emma Leon spoke about how the new house will benefit the recruitment process.
“As a medical learner, we have a lot of responsibilities. We have an expensive tuition and then, especially in our last year of training, we’re working in communities across the province and the country, so it’s really expensive to pay rent at home in Halifax and also cover our expenses while we’re away,” she said.
“So, having a beautiful building like this within walking distance of the hospital and all of the amenities of downtown Yarmouth is really perfect.”
Originally from Ontario, but having studied at Dalhousie University, Leon also touched on the positive aspect that comes from medical learners, residents and visiting physicians to not only get the chance to work together, but also to live together.
“It can be really scary and a bit intimidating moving to a new place, especially if you’re only here for a short time. So having that built in support network of friends is really important,” she said.
In her case, what started out as a work visit has turned into something more permanent. Since first coming here in June 2020 she and her husband have bought a home in Port Maitland where they hope to raise a family.
She said the community was so welcoming, and the learning experience here was so valuable, she didn’t want to leave.
“I hope that lots of people who are going to stay in this building, learners and physicians, fall in love with the community like me and they also won’t want to leave,” she said.