After enduring a two-year vacancy, the Huron Shores Family Health Team’s Bruce Mines site has finally found a new primary care physician with Dr. Amy Vine, who's been working at the clinic since Sept. 1.
Vine says there hasn't really been a dull moment during her first two months on the job, since she's also required to regularly work 24-hour shifts at the nearby emergency department in Thessalon.
Despite having her hands full, Vine's passion for rural health care remains strong, so much so that she's looking to use her new position to address the broader doctor shortage that's been plaguing the area for the last number of years.
"I'm hoping with me starting full time it'll help with the physician recruitment effort and that people will be more willing to look at the community and work here," she told The Sault Star in a recent interview.
Vine is no stranger to Northeastern Ontario, having grown up on Manitoulin Island and later attending Laurentian University in Sudbury to complete a nursing degree.
After working as a nurse in communities like Thessalon and Blind River, Vine decided to make a career pivot into family medicine by enrolling at NOSM University.
While Vine's residency was based in Sault Ste. Marie, she also spent much time learning the ropes in nearby communities, including Bruce Mines, which made for an easy transition once she finally took the big job earlier this fall.
Having lived in Thessalon for the last 18 years, Vine said she's definitely more comfortable working in a rural environment, especially since it gives her the freedom to tackle a diversity of tasks.
"I spend some time in the emergency department, I spend some time in my clinics. I've also done hospitalist work," she added. "So that's why family medicine and the diversity is really attractive to me."
Vine's appointment at Bruce Mines is a major source of comfort to North Shore Health Network CEO Tim Vine – no relation to Amy – who's been trying to fill this spot since the departure of Dr. Diederik Muller in 2021.
In the interim, this health region has relied on temporary physicians, or locums, to provide primary care, which has resulted in the periodic closure of the emergency site in Thessalon.
"So, with the addition of Amy, it means that already, right off the hop, we've got a few shifts covered in the emergency department and we know that people are able to access health care," Tim Vine said.
"This is huge, because ongoing chronic disease patients should be able to see a primary care physician. Because it's not patient-centred to have them seen in an emergency department, which is really only set up for acute episodic care."
Despite this positive development, the North Shore CEO concedes that one person cannot fulfill the health-care needs of both Bruce Mines and Thessalon, which should ideally be staffed by five-and-a-half full-time physicians.
Tim Vine told the Star in September that, thankfully, the North Shore's locum funding was renewed by the provincial government, ensuring that these gaps in health care will be plugged until at least the end of March.
When it comes to finding a long-term solution, Tim Vine said he believes that Amy is well-positioned to lay down a strong foundation for a new full-time health team, given her strong ties to the community.
"We know that we've now got somebody who is likely going to be there for the long haul with us and we can really breathe a big sigh of relief," he said.
Moving into next year, Dr. Vine hopes that her presence in Huron Shores will encourage other medical students from NOSM to follow in her footsteps and take up residency in the region.
But for the moment, Vine is just trying to fulfill the basic health-care needs of the community, an admittedly monumental task that she is more than willing to tackle, especially with the full support of the administration behind her.
"Right now, we just have basic needs for primary care and emerg,” she said. "But once we get up and rolling, the sky's the limit."
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Kyle Darbyson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sault Star