May 6th, 2020 ~ Vol. 90 No. 18
Rural doctors say only way to move forward is with agreement
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Stock photo
David Selles
Pass Herald Reporter
Physicians at The Associate Clinic in Pincher Creek are feeling forced by government changes to rural healthcare.

Dr. Samantha Myhr, a physician at The Associate Clinic, says due to changes announced by the Alberta government, physicians at the clinic have withdrawn hospital services.

"Essentially, we had made the decision as a clinic, because of the changes that rolled through unilaterally by the government on April 1st, to focus on clinic and withdraw hospital services. At the time that was almost all of us and two more were still deciding and then because of pressure from communities and their MLA's we finally got to the minister at least to care enough to look at the issue. We didn't get his ear because we've been trying that for months. Two physicians, a town Councillor and our mayor went to visit with Minister Shandro in person and bring him the 350 letters from our community and obviously they still rolled through with the changes after that anyway."

Now all nine physicians have decided to withdraw their hospital services.

Dr. Myhr says the changes announced on April 24th by Minister Shandro simply aren't enough for her and fellow physicians to change their course.
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"I think because of pressure from his rural caucus, which is of course a direct result of community support, he rolled back some of the changes but it was really not enough. What that showed us on the 24th was that government was still really not listening. It's not about piecemeal changes and putting some of the things that were taken away back. It's about the trust and certainty that comes with an agreement. I don't think they understand the effect that it has on retaining physicians but mostly recruiting physicians and because of those changes and walking back the changes really it's been this shifting environment week-to-week for us it feels like. With the government able to make changes on a whim unilaterally we don't have any end in sight to that."

Dr. Myhr says the clinic has already lost one recruit and a second is looking elsewhere.

"Because of that, we have lost a recruit that was supposed to be coming this summer from BC and were interested in the surgical training, which would be fantastic for us since we only have one surgeon who is on call all the time. She had been planning to come for months and ever since these changes were announced back in the fall she was weary and now has decided she can't deal with the uncertainty and is out. Our other recruit that's supposed to come this summer is also looking elsewhere."
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The focus is solely on finding an agreement that will allow rural physicians to move forward.

That agreement will need to be put in place by the Alberta government with the Alberta Medical Association, who are a group of physicians that have been elected by other physicians around the province to represent the needs of all communities and also look at advancements that can be made in all medicine.

"We're realizing how important it is to have that certainty with that agreement. His announcement didn't change anything with that so we haven't changed anything with our stance either."

Dr. Myhr says that it's no small task to everything is as it should be for patient care.

"It's a big undertaking to make sure that all the things are in place so that we can still care for our patients after hours not being in the hospital and going through meetings with AHS and trying to make sure we can assist them in getting coverage for the hospital as much as possible. Without an agreement to give us certainty that they aren't just going to take everything away again, we aren't going to go through the process of flip flopping every time the government does."
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According to Dr. Myhr, it's up to AHS to cover the care of patients requiring time in hospital.

"It does depend on what AHS can find for coverage. The government has said over and over again that they've got replacement physicians. We're hoping that's true. Given how hard it's been for us to recruit it seems unlikely. But it is AHS's responsibility to man the hospitals and we gave them a huge heads up because we want them to be able to do that so patient care is interrupted as little as possible but we know that if we don't put pressure on and try to raise the awareness of this issue then rural hospitals all over Alberta are going to end up understaffed anyway. People will leave and no one is coming in this environment.

Dr. Myhr says the physicians in Pincher Creek will be providing as much help as possible still.

"We will be doing extra clinic hours, we'll take care of our patients after hour by phone as much as possible but it's all on AHS to staff the emergency departments and hospitals."

This also isn't a situation that is unique to Pincher Creek.

It's being felt across all rural communities in Alberta.
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"I'm part of the Rural Sustainability Group that was trying to raise awareness of this crisis that's coming and we're still getting lots of input from physicians around the province and overwhelmingly the response after the announcement on the 24th was physicians saying they're done with this government and it's making them done with this province. There will be a lot more physicians just leaving, which will be incredibly unfortunate. The one thing that everybody has said that would help them get past this is an agreement. Who would feel comfortable working for an employer that has torn up your contract and can change things day-to-day without your input at all and with no recourse?"

As for what's next for rural physicians, Dr. Myhr says demonstrating the effects of no agreement will happen to ensure the government sees what could happen.

"There are things happening across the province in various ways. We know we have a lot of community support. We are trying to highlight the extreme drain that's going to happen. Part of that will be demonstrating the amount of physicians that are leaving, closing their practices or retiring early in addition to the physicians that have withdrawn hospital services."

Dr. Myhr says there was also a letter penned by 170 medical students saying things need to change and an agreement needs to be reached because this is making those students not want to come to or stay in Alberta.

According to Dr. Myhr, 87 percent of the current doctor residents polled are considering leaving Alberta.

Dr. Myhr says highlighting what's going on is essential moving forward.
"We're trying to highlight it from various different levels and a different lens because it seems like the government doesn't understand that this is not at all about money."

The Pass Herald also tried to reach out to doctors at the Crowsnest Medical Clinic multiple times but did not hear back from them.
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May 6th, 2020 ~ Vol. 90 No. 18
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