Cornwall, a city of 46,000 on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, has struggled with a shortage of family doctors, so much so the Ontario city has an incentive program to recruit MDs — medical doctors.
However, in a move that has provoked baffled and outraged responses, Cornwall city council last week agreed to provide $ 45,000 in public funding for a new private clinic run by an ND — a naturopathic “doctor.”
Critics say it’s a sign of how much the public is being misled and confused about a naturopath’s qualifications.
“I’ve been asked what the harm is from NDs misrepresenting themselves as ‘medically trained,’” Brighton, Ont., family physician Michelle Cohen recently tweeted. “Well, here you go: Cornwall city council is so confused about what NDs do that they’re spending 45K on an ND clinic to fix a physician shortage.”
It is just completely inappropriate and completely ridiculous
As reported by Postmedia’s Cornwall Standard Freeholder, Cornwall council last week decided to provide $ 45,000 from its reserve funds to a local naturopath, as well as her Toronto-based business partner, for a new clinic on 220 Second St. West — which, oddly, is just a few doors down from a similar establishment, the Seaway Naturopathic and Wellness Clinic. (Word of the city’s support for the new clinic came as news to the Seaway staff when reached Tuesday.)
“We have a medical recruitment program, and we are trying to attract more doctors,” Coun. Glen Grant said at last week’s council meeting. “We are trying to encourage this kind of development, especially downtown.”
The clinic, the Standard Freeholder noted, has plans for two naturopaths, a massage therapist, a physiotherapist and, possibly, a nurse practitioner.
The city’s support, however, taken just before Halloween, isn’t sitting entirely well. “No Treat to Taxpayers in Cornwall as Council Treats Naturopath to $ 45K Grant,” read a headline in the Cornwall Free News.
“If this is really to address a physician shortage, then it is just completely inappropriate and completely ridiculous,” Cohen, an assistant professor in Queen’s University’s department of family medicine, said in an interview Tuesday.
Mark Boileau, general manager of planning, development and recreation for the city of Cornwall, said the $ 45,000 grant is coming out of a downtown redevelopment fund, and not from its medical recruitment program. “We have never recruited a naturopath with that program, ever,” he said Wednesday, adding the program has succeeded in attracting a number of physicians.
The naturopath applied for funding for renovations to the older building’s facade. The city benefits through higher assessments and higher property taxes.
“I think there was reference made (at a city meeting) to the fact that, because it’s in the medical field, we’re trying to do more in that field. But quite honestly (who is occupying the building) is not normally really an issue,” Boileau said.
“It looks like we gave $ 45,000 because it’s someone calling themselves a naturopathic doctor. That was really not an issue for us at all in the building restoration determination,” Boileau said. “You can understand that because we don’t really care who the occupant is, as long as the building is improved from the curb, the curb appeal, the assessment is really what we are trying to achieve. For that reason the occupation is not that significant to us.”
“This is a businesswoman who is operating adjacent to a priority area that we want to see redeveloped. It’s really about a building restoration grant to make sure that her business, and businesses in the area, look good and attractive in terms of having people come and do business downtown,” Cornwall Mayor Bernadette Clement said Wednesday.
“The discussion really isn’t about her being a naturopath, or the city of Cornwall approving or not of naturopaths in general,” Clement said.
Cohen said, from a health perspective, “it is not benefitting anyone. It is still going to be a service that is primarily available to people with money.”
The controversy illustrates what she and other family doctors see as the creeping encroachment on terms like “family medicine,” and “primary care,” as well as the way in which naturopaths are brazenly promoting their services. “They are sowing confusion, deliberately, to benefit their pocketbooks,” Cohen said.
Two years ago, the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors (CAND) launched an awareness campaign using the tagline, “Medically Trained. Naturally Focused.” It included a series of YouTube videos with people dressed in white coats and with stethoscopes draped around their necks.
The goal is to “educate the public and to ensure they’re aware who naturopathic doctors are and what they do,” Shawn O’Reilly, executive director of the association, told the National Post when the campaign launched. Though naturopaths are “very definitely not medical doctors,” they have “very similar training,” O’Reilly said, adding that the primary difference between the two is their “philosophical approach to patients.”
The campaign was designed to “elevate the medical perception of naturopathic doctors!”, as it was pitched to members on the CAND website. The target audience? Affluent, middle-aged (35 to 54) Canadian women with a higher education.
“We’re committed to making naturopathic doctors the go-to health care professionals for more Canadians,” the website said.
Naturopath is premised on the belief the body has an innate ability to heal itself.
However, unlike medical doctors, the Ontario Health Insurance Plan doesn’t cover treatments naturopaths offer. “So, this is public money that is really only going to benefit people who can either pay out of pocket for private naturopathy services, or people who have (private) benefits,” said Cohen.
More importantly, “those primary care needs are not going to be met by a naturopathic clinic,” she said.
“They can pretend they’re doing the same things we are, but they’re just not. We have completely different training, completely different certification. It’s a totally different experience. It’s dramatically different.”
While it’s certainly not true of every, or even most naturopaths — and their professional colleges and bodies are trying to “straddle the line to make vaccination seem more acceptable,” Cohen said — Canadian research has shown anti-vaccine rhetoric isn’t uncommon on naturopathic websites. Many naturopaths (including the naturopath behind the new Cornwall clinic) also promote therapies such as high-dose intravenous vitamin injections for which there is no scientific evidence of any meaningful benefit.
What a travesty
The term naturopathic “doctor,” Vancouver family medicine specialist Dr. Jon Hislop tweeted last week, should be no more acceptable than “naturopathic pilot” or “naturopathic engineer.”
“Doctors in (Canada) are struggling to do more for patients despite increasing overhead & gov’t cuts … meanwhile, a city council looking for new doctors offers $ 45K to set up a clinic … to naturopaths?!! What a travesty,” Hislop tweeted.
When reached Tuesday, Grant said the council’s decision is “on hold for now. We have to get more information on a couple of issues on that,” he said.
The issue went before a community improvement plan committee, on to a planning advisory committee and then, finally, council. “At this time the decision at council is deferred until we can get some more information,” Grant said.
(This story has been updated with comments from Cornwall general manager of parks, recreation and development Mark Boileau to clarify that the $ 45,000 in city funding will come out of a downtown redevelopment program and not the city’s medical recruitment program.)