Ontario’s health-care crisis has made it difficult for many to access care or find a doctor, but one Orillia family is facing a unique challenge following their family physician’s retirement in December 2022: They cannot find anyone to sign the needed paperwork to move past a six-year-old impaired driving charge.
An Orillia woman, who was granted anonymity, explained her son cannot have his vehicle’s ignition interlock device removed until a doctor or nurse practitioner signs a substance-use assessment form.
The device, which is required in a vehicle for one year after an impaired driving charge, serves as an in-vehicle breathalyzer to ensure drivers do not operate their vehicles under the influence.
The device costs the local man $113 per month, plus additional charges for ‘failed starts’ — which can easily occur even without consuming alcohol, his mother explained — and he will have to continue paying the bill until he can find a health-care professional to complete his form.
With the mandatory year set to expire in April, the pair have been looking to find someone who can sign the form, which has proven difficult following the retirement of their family doctor.
“I have called every clinic in Simcoe County. I have called the clinic for patients without doctors behind our hospital,” the woman said. “I’ve called everywhere. I called the ombudsman. I sent an email to the Globe and Mail because he’s not the only person in this province that is facing this with our doctor shortages.”
However, the woman said most places she has called have either told her they are either unable to fill out the form or were reluctant to do so.
“Our doctor, who knew us for 37 years, would have had no problem filling this out, but he’s gone,” she said. “So, now (we) have a form that has to be filled out by a doctor or nurse practitioner, and they won’t do it because it’s their licence.”
The woman said she has also been in contact with the appropriate government departments, officials and elected representatives, and was told her son could go into the emergency room to get the form filled out, but that signing the form would be at the discretion of the doctor.
“He could go in and six to 12 hours, or however long it takes them … to have a doctor throw his hands up and say, ‘No, I’m not doing it,’” she said.
She said the only place that has considered helping with the paperwork is in Gravenhurst, and she plans on following up on that shortly.
Her son’s charge was laid in 2017, and she noted no one was harmed in the incident.
Since then, he has faced consequences. He lost his job, vehicle and relationship, and had to sell his home in a matter of months following the charge, she said, noting he has since quit drinking and taken all mandated steps throughout the process.
He was only able to get a vehicle again last year, which is when he began the ignition interlock device program.
“He’s done the court mandates; he’s done everything, but we are stalemated. We’re stalemated at this final step,” she said. “His charge was very serious. It was serious, and I totally get it, but he’s paid his dues.
“He doesn’t drink anymore. I mean, it’s a hard lesson learned, but it is a lesson learned.”
Whether he needs to have several appointments, undergo urine or blood tests, or any other manner of evaluation to get the form completed, her son is more than willing to do so, she said, but the issue is finding the appropriate channel to do so.
In 2021, there were more than 16,000 impaired driving incidents in Ontario, and the woman views her son’s predicament as an issue that could affect many across the province amid a shortage of health-care professionals.
“There needs to be something done or sooner than later given the crisis of our health care, lack of doctors, lack of nurse practitioners,” she said.
“I want to see this form completed by somebody. That’s No. 1 for us,” she said. “It’s a personal thing, but at the same time I want to see the system step in and open up so that other people, maybe a pastor or a lawyer or notary, (could do it).”
Until then, she said, her son will have to continue paying for the ignition interlock device and drive to Barrie each month to have the device configured.