Gary Machado’s newborn son, Nathan, had his two-month checkup with his pediatrician this week, but the Vaudreuil-Dorion resident had to travel about a half-hour to Dollard-des-Ormeaux for the appointment.
“With the snow and the ice, (I was) a bit worried about the trip,” Machado said. “It’s also annoying with all the gas expenses and the traffic we have to wade through.”
Machado isn’t alone. Fellow Vaudreuil-Dorion resident Pam Sidhu-Mahal said she had to practically beg a doctor’s secretary in Dollard four years ago to see her then-newborn son, Manraj.
“I was on the verge of crying at the doctor’s office; I had to really cajole the secretary to let me in,” she said. “I was already a few weeks late for his two-week appointment because I couldn’t find a doctor early enough.”
Sidhu-Mahal said she made dozens of calls to pediatricians after her son was born, but few had any openings. She quickly gave up hope of finding a local doctor, but even had trouble when she called doctors in the West Island. She finally settled on the Tiny Tots clinic in Dollard, and although she’s happy with the care, she’d prefer a doctor located near her home.
“Who wants to travel a half-hour with a sick baby, especially in the winter?” she said. “I would have much preferred to have someone closer to home.”
But pediatricians in the Off-Island region are a rarity. There are a grand total of four in the Vaudreuil-Soulanges area – one of the fastest-growing regions in the country, according to the most recent census.
“That is absolutely mind-blowing,” Sidhu-Mahal said. “We have all these children being born here. Where are they going to go? We don’t have the resources to treat them.”
One of the reasons for the lack of services is because there is no hospital in the region, explained François Simard, an information agent with the Agence de Santé et Services Sociaux for the Montérégie region.
Simard said pediatricians are associated with certain hospitals, and the closest hospital to the region is the Hôpital du Suroît in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield.
He couldn’t say if a new hospital for the region, which is being planned for 2018, would help matters since it hasn’t yet been decided what services it will offer.
One of the four pediatricians in the region is Allan Jarjour, who works out of the Médi-Centre Ste-Angélique in St-Lazare.
Jarjour began working at the clinic in 2001, and his practice was closed to new patients six months later. He currently has 2,000 active patients, and except for siblings, and the occasional exception for a special-needs child, he never accepts new patients. He still gets about a dozen calls per day from parents asking if there are any openings.
Jarjour explained most young pediatricians prefer to work in a hospital. If they open a practice, they’ll often join ones that are already existing, so they can work at the clinic on a part-time basis while they get established.
He added it’s very expensive for a doctor to open a practice, and there is no advantage to doing so in the Vaudreuil-Soulanges area, because it’s not considered an outlying region by the Quebec government, so there are no financial incentives.
Jarjour said his clinic is actually looking for another pediatrician, but so far no one has expressed interest.
“It would be great for them,” he said. “We could fill them up with patients right away.”
Machado said he isn’t confident the shortage will be addressed any time soon.
“They haven’t taken the issue to heart,” he said. “We lack a lot of services for non-emergency issues. (The government is) obviously not working hard enough to attract pediatricians. I feel they are not taking the health issue seriously at all, and that’s the No. 1 issue for most people here.”