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Local doctors will not withdraw hospital services

Thursday, 22 October 2020. Posted in Shootin' the Breeze

Local doctors will not withdraw hospital services

Although still harbouring deep concerns over the lack of progress in talks between the Alberta Medical Association and the Alberta government, Dr. Samantha Myhr, above, says Pincher Creek doctors have decided to end their intention of withdrawing hospital services after staffing changes in the clinic made the plan untenable.  
Photo courtesy of the Associate Clinic

Local doctors will not withdraw hospital services

By Sean Oliver
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Make no mistake, 2020 has altered provincial health care in an unimaginable way.

The pandemic, of course, has changed the health system completely, all of which has been further complicated by ongoing contention over the cancelled master agreement between the Alberta government and Alberta Medical Association.

The uncertainty of no binding contract led to a planned surgical recruit staying in British Columbia and cast doubt that another long-courted prospect would stay past her planned locum in Pincher Creek.

With little hope of recruiting and concerns over retaining current members, doctors from the Associate Clinic gave notice back in the spring to withdraw their hospital services if a deal was not signed. Notice was initially given for 90 days but was extended to Nov. 1 at the request of town council.

With the deadline looming, local doctors have decided to continue on with hospital care for the time being. The decision was based on multiple factors, including the imminent loss of two full-time physicians and how that would affect the future of health care in Pincher Creek. Dr. Cathy Scrimshaw is retiring in December, and Dr. Daniel Ruttle will be providing only intermittent coverage as a locum after February. 

“The rest of us will need to absorb the extra workload, and we have to find a way to do it sustainably,” says Dr. Samantha Myhr.

To that end, the funding model for the clinic is set to change.

Pincher Creek doctors have decided to sign on to an alternative relationship plan called a blended capitation model. This payment structure encourages more team-based care and removes the need for direct physician-to-patient contact necessary for billing in the current structure.

Local physician Tobias Gelber was involved in the development of the model nearly five years ago, and the clinic has been moving toward implementation for the past three years. 

“It is difficult to sign anything in the current environment,” says Dr. Gelber, “but as long as no unilateral changes are made after the fact it is worth trying.”  

The blended capitation model allows doctors to care for their patients through a variety of means, including using staff to their full capabilities and meeting patient needs through phone, email, etc. — an important aspect, given the current situation with Covid-19.

Though ending their intention to withdraw hospital care, the situation between doctors and the Alberta government remains tenuous without a master agreement.

“We are struggling to recruit and are facing further losses. It’s a precarious situation, and this is only a temporary crutch,” says Dr. Myhr.

Town council has arranged for Health Minister Tyler Shandro to come visit the Pincher Creek hospital on Dec. 16. The goal is to have the minister see first-hand the work accomplished in a rural health setting, as well as communicate the unique challenges for recruitment and retention, such as the broad skill set and long hours required to work in a small town.

“I’d like to thank town council, and especially Mayor Anderberg, for sticking up for our community and achieving a site visit from the minister,” Dr. Myhr says. “Our goal as a group has always been to improve medical care in Pincher Creek. We would like to get back to that mindset rather than simply trying to hold on to what we have.” 

Mayor Don Anderberg is optimistic the visit will help the health minister appreciate the vital role the Pincher Creek hospital plays in the community.

“We want to show him how important health care is to this community, and how advanced it is for a rural centre,” he says. “It’s fairly unique with the clinic and hospital in one building, and I don’t think there’s anything like it in the province.”

“We’ve said for years we could probably use this model around the province for rural health,” the mayor continues, “but until somebody actually comes down and sees how well it works first-hand, all it is is talk.”

The health minister’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

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