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I'm a family doctor doing comprehensive family medicine

Priya Suppal

I am a family doctor doing comprehensive family medicine in Brampton for the last 26 years. I represent a group of 20 doctors and together we look after almost 60,000 family practice patients. We also look after additional patients in our urgent care clinic that operates seven days a week who come in from our surrounding communities: Georgetown, Bolton, Orangeville and Milton.

Our offices employ almost 40 staff, including receptionists, office managers and lab staff.  They are our family. Our clinics provide them with a means to support their young families. Sadly on March 19, we had to lay off 11 of our staff. We cried together on that day and wondered when we would see each other and whether we would work together again. With each passing day, I am doubtful that we will be able to bring them back. I am not sure how long we will even be able to keep our doors open.

We are an essential service and have kept our doors open to ensure that the most vulnerable of our patients continue to be seen—newborn babies, pregnant moms, babies for their immunizations, cancer patients for their injections, just to name a few. Our staff are putting their lives at risk to come in and help with our immunization and OB clinics. We have been working night and day on the phone, talking to our family practice patients and other patients in the community. We love our work and taking care of our patients, it is our calling and we took an oath.

But unfortunately, the government is refusing to pay us for the work that we are doing and have done since March 15. What the government does not understand is that if we are not paid for our calls, we cannot afford to pay for the infrastructure that is necessary to our patients and help keep them out of hospital. We need to pay our rent, phone and internet as well as the computer system that keeps our medical records.

We need to pay for personal protective equipment (PPE), which has skyrocketed in price. Before the pandemic, we could buy a box of 50 surgical masks for $5.99. That same box of masks today, from the same medical supplier, costs $45.00. We have had to try to source isolation gowns, face shields, eye protection and gloves, without which we can’t see our patients. Once we run out of this necessary equipment, we won’t be able to continue to see patients; our offices will be forced to close for in person visits.

Where will those patients go? They will be forced to go into the emergency department. If I am not paid until July, I am afraid that the office will have to close for good—how can we manage with huge expenses required to run our offices for three months without being paid for the work we have done and continue to do? What will happen to our patients, where will they go for their care?

Who will remember that it’s someone’s birthday when they come in or notice an engagement ring on a finger or share in the excitement of a couple when we tell them they are pregnant? Who will hold their hand and sit for a moment with tears in their eyes when we have to give them bad news? We want to be there for all of this.

If we close, the floodgates will rip wide open and cripple the already overburdened health care system, further worsening wait times for specialists, tests and necessary surgery. The ripple effect will be devastating. These short sighted measures will have detrimental consequences when we come out on the other side of COVID.

My father was an Obstetrician/Gynecologist. He was incredibly proud when I got into medicine and instilled in me how this was my life’s work and a way to give back to my community in a profound way. His words continue to replay in my head. He had a huge impact on my eldest son, who is in medical school at the moment and believes firmly in a life of service.

Three generations of doctors, but what will health care look like for my son? We have an innate desire to help, sacrificing family time and neglecting our personal health for others. We are being called heroes but are being treated with such disrespect and zero understanding of what will happen if we have to close our offices. The effects of these closures will take decades to overcome.

Dr. Priya Suppal
Family Physician