Associate Clinic physicians accepted a request from Town of Pincher Creek Mayor Don Anderberg to postpone their plans to withdraw from hospital services for another three months.
Associate Clinic physicians had initially planned to cease hospital-related services in protest of a number of provincial policies that they saw as damaging to health care in the community.
These changes include Bills 30 and 32, as well as the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) losing the ability to negotiate systemic changes with health care officials when the province scrapped the former Master Agreement, as cited by a letter sent to Mayor Anderberg and provincial government officials signed by Associate Clinic physicians.
The letter stated that physicians still believe important services are in jeopardy, but added that the community is in a time when help is needed.
“We believe we are on the cusp of losing maternity care, and possibly our 24-hour-a-day emergency room. Meanwhile, the pandemic is on the upswing in Alberta and locally in our community,” reads the letter.
Even though physicians have made the promise to stay on board for another 90 days, the letter stated that very real challenges still face health care in Pincher Creek.
“In the past year we have lost two physicians who both possessed the extra skills that are so desperately needed in our community. We recruited two prior learners to join our practice once they graduated this July, but due to the chaos and instability caused by this government, both have chosen to look elsewhere,” the letter reads.
“We are in dire need of more doctors to maintain our current services, but this doesn’t seem likely in the current environment. It is this same environment that led us to announce withdrawal of physician services from the hospital over 90 days ago.”
The letter reads that doctors still feel mistreated by the province, and that the true issues facing rural health care, especially in Pincher Creek, have not been acknowledged.
“They have indicated we are replaceable and that no services will be lost without apparent understanding of what we actually do on a daily basis,” it reads.
“They even returned some of the financial cuts they made to rural, which does nothing to address the concerns that were never really financial in the first place.”
Doctors also reported that the province was unable to come up with replacements for hospital services, as was promised.
“This week we received a letter from local Alberta Health Services (AHS) leadership, Dr. Auld, which clearly illustrates their inability to find coverage for Pincher Creek hospital in August despite having over 90 days notice. Without Pincher Creek physicians, 38 per cent of emergency room shifts would be left unfilled in August.”
The letter stated that doctors were unwilling to let what they see as poor policy put community health at risk in a time of need.
“We will not stand by and watch AHS and government fail our community as the pandemic creates an even greater need for local medical services,” it reads.
“We are mindful of your imperative to put aside our differences and engage in a meaningful discussion with policymakers, and welcome any opportunity to be partners in shaping the future of our local health care.”
The decision by physicians came the week that they indicated they would withdraw from hospital services.
Anderberg, in an address given at 8 a.m. on Thursday, July 30, said the decision by physicians would pose serious challenges to health care in Pincher Creek.
“Town council feels that the Health Minister (Tyler Shandro), Alberta Health, and to an extent, Alberta Health Services have put our community in a position that, come August 1, may well trigger a public health emergency. I do not say this lightly,” said Anderberg.
He said that council has been trying to provide input and contribute to resolving the issues that doctors have been speaking out against, but to no avail.
“We feel that we have valuable information and suggestions to help facilitate the discussion between Alberta Health and the AMA to find a win-win solution for everyone involved. To this point, Pincher Creek Town Council has been left on the outside of any discussions and has been provided next to no information,” he said.
He said having health care at risk would prevent council from fulfilling their duties has described in the Municipal Government Act (MGA).
“(The MGA) directs us to maintain safe and viable communities. Without the provision of a secure and dependable medical service in our community, we know without a doubt that our community will eventually no longer be safe or viable.”