O’Toole ready to hit the ground running as community navigator

    ANTIGONISH: The community navigator for a group created to assist with and encourage the integration and retention of physicians in the Antigonish area says her work will pick up where the community groups before her left off.

    The new position was created to steer the Community Navigation and Physician Retention Services Association (CNPRSA), a partnership between St. Martha’s Regional Hospital Foundation, the Municipality of the County of Antigonish and the Town of Antigonish.

    Led by Sarah O’Toole, CNPRSA will work with the community, local physicians and businesses to engage support and encourage physician integration and retention in the community.

    “The role is built on the foundation of work that was started by a group of physicians a few years ago,” she told The Reporter. “In the spring of 2019, they (wanted) to become more involved in the recruitment and retention process, as they were seeing a few areas where they could support or enhance the efforts.”

    O’Toole, who grew up in Antigonish and moved back 13 years ago to start a family, is a mother to three boys, has been involved heavily in community organizing – especially in the arts and culture sector – and for the past eight-years has worked at the People’s Place Library on Main Street.

    Previously, the physicians were working in a volunteer capacity, and when they invited community members to join, she joined the retention committee and would support committee work through her role at the library, making it a focal point for potential physicians on their recruitment trip to Antigonish.

    “I was aware of the work that they were doing. These doctors are quite busy, a lot of the work they were doing to support and recruit and retain new colleagues is really detailed work,” O’Toole said. “It was a lot of work for volunteers to do.”

    She indicated it will now allow other stakeholders to work in a little bit of a different capacity as they now have co-ordinated support from her in the community navigator position, and she can start to consolidate information and have a better focus on it.

    In October 2020, the two municipalities signed an inter-municipal agreement to create the association and the paid position of community navigator, O’Toole came into her role on Jan. 18.

    “I’m a really big fan of Antigonish, I think it’s a wonderful place to live and a wonderful place to raise a family, and I think we have something special here,” O’Toole said. “And I’m excited to help bring that forward as well – that community pride.”

    As for how she’ll handle recruitments, O’Toole suggested it starts with finding out a little bit about them and what their interests are, and not assuming everybody shares the same interest.

    “But I think a lot of us are looking for that work-life balance – and I think Antigonish is well-positioned,” O’Toole said. “Any night of the week in Antigonish there would normally be dozens of things happening, you can find that larger, urban centre feel in terms of night life and social life, but as well you can have a very active outdoor and nature-focused life as well.”

    Before the pandemic landed, site-visits were happening, and she said if a family was thinking about re-locating here, the volunteer group would get a sense of the family’s interest and would tailor those site visits.

    “Now with COVID here, that does look different, but I think there’s ways to show people around virtually – I know it’ll be a bit trickier,” O’Toole said. “It is nice to be able to connect with people in-person but I think even more seeing how Nova Scotia’s government and public health handled COVID, it certainly put us on the map and shows we’re a great place to think about moving to.”