Marathon, Ontario’s Community Connector Program: ‘Secret Sauce’ Ingredients for attracting and retaining health workers

Chronic healthcare workforce shortages and high turnover of health professionals are a common challenge facing many rural communities. But there is a solution! 

The Attract Connect Stay – Community Connector Program draws on some ‘secret sauce’ ingredients as part of a proven strategy to help build a stronger healthcare and social care workforce in rural communities. 

Growing a strong health workforce in rural communities 

The Attract Connect Stay Framework and its flagship Community Connector Program is built on Dr Cath Cosgrave’s 25+ years’ experience working with rural communities developing community-centred, strengths-based strategies to effectively address local health and community service issues.  

Dr Cosgrave has long been passionate about addressing rural access inequities and resourcing challenges, coupled with her desire to support rural communities to become thriving and sustainable places to live and work.   

It was in 2019 on a Churchill Fellowship trip to Canada, she came across Marathon community’s approach to addressing their own critical health workforce shortages. 

“In 2009, in Marathon, Ontario Canada the community responded to a critical healthcare workforce shortage by establishing a locally-funded, locally-recruited and community-managed Community Connector position. Since then, there have been no health workforce shortages,” Dr Cosgrave says. 

She knew there were some lessons to be learned from the Marathon community’s approach. 

Why does it work? 

Dr Cosgrave says there are some key ‘secret sauce’ ingredients of Marathon’s Community Connector Program.

These are:  

1. Local businesses and services (including local government; health services and major employers/businesses) are the main source of funding for the program
2. The Community Connector is a dedicated position and sustainable local funding sources are secured within three years of starting.  

3. The Community Connector is engaged on an annual deliverables contract basis with set total hours.  

Delivery approach
4. The Community Connector is demand driven position and the incumbent works flexibly to meet local healthcare and social care workforce needs as they arise
5. The Community Connector provides a concierge service and has customer service skills and experience
6. The Community Connector has strong local networks and skills and experience building external networks
7. The Community Connector and the Committee of Management updates the community on recruitment and retention developments and successes are celebrated  

8. The Community Connector is overseen by a Committee of Management comprising community leaders and local health organisations  

Community engagement
9. Residents of the local community provide in-kind supports to allow interested candidates and new health workers (and their families) to experience the lifestyle and recreational features of the local area
10. Residents of the local community develop a strong understanding of the challenges of attracting, and retaining health professionals and understand the need to fund a dedicated and continuous Community Connector position. 

How does it look for your community? 

The goal of the Community Connector Pilot Project (21-22) is to create a website with tools and resources to support rural communities to successfully establish, manage and financially sustain their own Community Connector Program.  

“It’s important to take some time to consider what are the ‘secret ingredients’ for success of the Program in your community,” Dr Cosgrave says. 

“These may be things related to funding and fundraising, governance, the Community Connector contract terms, ways to engage and gather the broad support for the Program from your whole community.” 

If you’re unsure whether your community is ready for the Community Connector Program – the Establishing the Community Connector Program has been developed to support you to find this out, read more about the Program here.

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