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Pincher Creek doctors put community first, extend date to withdraw hospital services

Thursday, 30 July 2020. Posted in Shootin' the Breeze

Pincher Creek doctors put community first, extend date to withdraw hospital services

MD of Pincher Creek councillor Bev Everts gives a thumbs up during the June 30 Rally to Rescue Rural Health held in Pincher Creek. 

 Photo by Brenda Shenton

Pincher Creek doctors put community first,
extend date to withdraw hospital services

By Shannon Robison


Physicians of Pincher Creek’s Associate Clinic are putting the best interests of their community first and pushing the date of withdrawing hospital privileges 90 days down the road.

Set to offer services from their clinic only as of Aug. 1, local doctors have agreed to extend their work at the Pincher Creek hospital for an additional three months in response to a request from town council.

“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,” states the Associate Clinic in a letter confirming its doctors will return to regular services for the next 90 days.

“Town council feels that the health minister, Alberta Health and, to an extent, Alberta Health Services, have put our community in a position that, come Aug. 1, may well trigger a public health emergency,” said Mayor Don Anderberg today while announcing the extension. 

He has frequently expressed frustration that, despite attempts to have the community’s voice heard, local officials have had little response from the provincial government regarding a situation with the potential to negatively impact the safety and well-being of residents and the economic stability of the town.

“To this point, Pincher Creek town council has been left on the outside of any discussions and has been provided next to no information,” the mayor said.

Despite having more than 90 days’ notice, AHS did not yet have full coverage for the Pincher Creek hospital in place for the month of August, prompting town council to meet with the Associate Clinic doctors to discuss possible ways to mitigate the situation. 

Mayor Anderberg said that as of Monday only two weeks of hospital services had been partially covered — with no ability to do surgeries or obstetrics — and AHS might not be able to provide 24-hour emergency room coverage.

“Without Pincher Creek physicians, 38 per cent of emergency room shifts would be left unfilled in August,” states the Associate Clinic. “Without seamless coverage we could not admit patients to our hospital or deliver babies safely. Patients needing these services would be forced to travel as far as Lethbridge.”

“One comment from our meeting with AHS on Monday was how extremely hard it was for them to find even enough coverage for two weeks,” said Mayor Anderberg. 

Physician attraction and retention has long been a challenge for rural communities and has been emphasized this spring by not only the Associate Clinic doctors, but also by town and municipal district councils and the Pincher Creek Health Professions Attraction and Retention Committee. 

The Associate Clinic lost two physicians in the past year, and two interested recruits are now looking elsewhere for work due to the current state of uncertainty being felt here and across the province.

The ongoing dispute between Alberta Health and the Alberta Medical Association was detailed extensively in last week’s issue of Shootin’ the Breeze and Pincher Creek physicians have had a strong voice in the call for Alberta Health to enter binding arbitration with the AMA.

In late April, Associate Clinic physicians — Dr. Cathy Scrimshaw, Dr. Tobias Gelber, Dr. Gavin Parker, Dr. Beverly Burton, Dr. Tracy Burton, Dr. Jared Van Bussel, Dr. Ashley Rommens, Dr. Daniel Ruttle and Dr. Samantha Myhr  — announced their intention to resign hospital privileges at the end of July. 

It was a serious move, made initially in response to changes to the physician funding model and potential restructuring recommendations in the Ernst & Young review that threaten maternity care and 24-hour emergency care that currently exist in the community.  

Since then, the introduction of recent legislation, such as Bill 30 and Bill 32, has left local doctors feeling further demoralized as the communication gap widens between Alberta Health and the Alberta Medical Association.

“All we asked of AHS is to recognize the essential role our physician group plays in Pincher Creek’s health care and to enter into productive dialogue on how to overcome our current challenges,” says the clinic letter. 

“We hoped that collaboration would extend to involvement regarding the Ernst & Young review implementation, which AHS has had for nearly 200 days without any discussion of its local impacts. Instead, they felt threats to our privileges and medical licences were a way to drive us back to work.”

Pincher Creek’s town and municipal district councils, along with many citizens, have actively engaged in supporting this effort. The community has been vocal and many feel the provincial government has been silent in response and has not given local concerns due consideration.

“It is clear we are not the citizens that they want to listen to,” states the clinic. “We remain concerned about the upcoming changes to our local services and the failure by the Government of Alberta or Alberta Health Services to engage in collaborative consultation.”

Mayor Anderberg sees this as a window of opportunity and hopes all parties will begin talking and working together.

“We feel that we have valuable information and suggestions to help facilitate the discussion between Alberta Health and the Alberta Medical Association to find a win-win solution for everyone involved,” he said.

“We would hope that the minister and AHS officials would be reaching out to us to begin a new chapter of co-operation. It may look like you got someone to blink and cave with your actions, but, the truth of the matter is, our local doctors should be applauded for helping to avert an unmitigated disaster in health care in our community.”

Related articles:

This is not what the doctor ordered https://bit.ly/3g6VewI

Strong show of support as Pincher Creek rallies for docs https://bit.ly/3g4PbZy

Community called to rally in 'deadly serious' rural health crisis https://bit.ly/3hwYn9e

Associate Clinic update https://bit.ly/2ZszrtU

Associate Clinic doctors make tough call https://bit.ly/3f0suVY

Doctors warn of looming health crisis in Alberta https://bit.ly/2zne3vl

Crowsnest Pass doctor addresses proposed healthcare changes https://bit.ly/3e2eqtQ

Physicians share concerns about budget changes https://bit.ly/2zne3vl

Doctor voices concerns over changes that could drastically affect local health care https://bit.ly/3e6JHvD

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