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Central Saanich council rejects call for physician housing, councillor will continue push

Coun. Gordon Newton wants the municipality to provide subsidized housing for health-care workers in an effort to lure more of them to live and work there
Central Saanich Municipal Hall. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

A Central Saanich councillor wants to use housing to lure family doctors to the municipality, but he failed to win support from fellow councillors this week.

Despite the lost vote, Coun. Gordon Newton is not giving up.

He is hoping to discuss the issue at the municipality’s next strategic planning session, which would take place after the Oct. 15 municipal elections.

Newton sought council support to ask staff to look at securing a range of housing, including single-family townhouses and condos, for health-care workers and their families.

He also wanted the municipality’s next strategic planning process to examine the feasibility of buying and renting units, through a property management firm, to house health-care workers at below market rates.

The housing would remain a district asset for as long as necessary, said Newton.

His motion failed five to one.

Newton’s efforts come as other municipalities are also looking at ways to attract family doctors to their communities. The current health-care worker shortage has seen medical clinics close and cuts to medical services.

High housing cost are seen as a barrier to attracting medical workers.

On Salt Spring Island, for example, Lady Minto Hospital has purchased a hotel and is converting it to staff accommodation.

An estimated 100,000 people in the capital region don’t have a family doctor. Province-wide, that number rises to about 700,000.

Newton said he was trying to come up with a creative idea that “could be acted upon very quickly.”

Housing on southern Vancouver Island is “extremely expensive,” he noted.

The benchmark price for a single family home in Greater Victoria’s core is just over $1 million.

The business community has identified the shortage of doctors as a barrier to retaining workers, he said.

Although the province has responsibility for health care in B.C., “I do believe that the district still has a role to play in this,” Newton said.

The municipality is already taking steps, such as approving a rezoning on Mount Newton Cross Road where the lower commercial floor is committed to health-care services, he said.

Coun. Carl Jensen was wary of the cost implications of Newton’s approach, saying even if the district provided a house for one doctor and their family, “that is not going to solve the problem.”

Attracting doctors to the district would mean they would be coming from other places where they are needed, such as emergency clinics in small communities, said Coun. Chris Graham.

There’s a “fundamental critical shortage, not just in this province, but in this country,” he said. “I think there are some real equitable issues that need to be addressed.”

Applying more pressure to get more doctors trained would be more advantageous, he said.

Coun. Bob Thompson won support for his motions relating to the doctor shortage. Council agreed to invite the locally based Saunders Family Foundation, which is advocating a community-based approach to addressing the shortage of health care workers, to speak to council.

Other Saanich Peninsula municipalities will be invited to a joint meeting, to be held after the election, to discuss the family doctor shortage.

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