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According to Health Canada, Paxlovid stops the Covid-19 virus from multiplying.

Health Canada ends Paxlovid coverage, Albertans to pay over $1.4K per treatment

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Paxlovid, a drug for immunocompromised individuals diagnosed with Covid, was covered by Health Canada on an emergency basis.  While private insurance may cover some of the cost, Albertans could now have to pay around $1,450 for the five-day supply of the drug, according to Alberta Health and confirmed by Pincher Creek Pharmasave.   As of the end of May, the Public Health Agency of Canada has discontinued coverage, now making the drug a provincial responsibility. 

Health and pharmaceutical care in Canada is a joint venture between federal and provincial levels, with federal agenda setting and provincial implementation. 

The Government of Alberta will cover the cost of Paxlovid for Albertans who have a government-sponsored drug plan, are immunocompromised and Covid-positive, according to a media response from Andrea Smith, Alberta Health’s press secretary.

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The coverage is listed by Alberta Blue Cross as restricted benefit with special authorization, meaning provincial plans for seniors would cap the patient’s cost at $25, with plans like income support and child and adult health benefits still seeing full coverage.

Some employer-sponsored plans may provide partial coverage, but depending on co-pay could still see patients paying large amounts for the treatment.

According to Andrea Smith, pharmacists were only notified of this change on May 24, and physicians on May 30. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a person’s immune response to having Covid can protect them from reinfection for several months, but protection decreases over time. 

Those with weak immune systems may have a limited immune response or none at all. This can result in hospitalization due to severe illness, and even death.

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New variants can bypass existing immunity and increase infection risk.

Although rare, reinfection can occur as early as several weeks after a bout with the virus.

Pincher Creek resident Shannon Peace is recovering from her third run-in with Covid. The first was in 2022, while the latter were contracted in March and May of this year.

With her immunity weakened by a daily dose of a chemotherapy drug that treats a rare blood disorder, Peace has done what she can to avoid contracting the virus since the onset of the pandemic. Asthma is a further complicating factor for her.

In 2022, she was treated with Paxlovid at the onset of symptoms.

According to Health Canada, Paxlovid — brand name for a combination of  nirmatrelvir and ritonavir — stops the virus from multiplying. Once treatment begins, a patient’s symptoms should not get worse as the drugs help the body fight the viral infection.

Paxlovid treatment was relatively new at the time and Peace was advised not to take any pain relievers or decongestants. She felt miserable for about two weeks but believes it would have been worse without the drug.

Fast-forward to the spring of 2024 when fever and chills knocked Peace out of commission and a home test was positive for Covid.

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“My daughter reminded me that it was a rough go the first time so I consulted with 811 a number of times before choosing to forego a trip to the ER requesting treatment,” Peace says.

“I monitored my oxygen level and temperature, and promised the RNs I spoke with to go in if I went past certain thresholds.”

She wound up spending three full weeks in bed, sleeping up to 20 hours a day. Symptoms gradually subsided but fatigue and some breathing changes persisted.

“It was a complete shock to test positive again only two months later,” she says. “I hadn’t fully recovered yet when I got sick again in May.”

After conferring with 811 and her local physician, Peace was referred to the Covid Treatment Centre.

“At each step of the consultation, it was stressed that I would be responsible to pay for the Paxlovid prescription and to confirm with the pharmacist what that amount would be,” Peace says. “This was the first I heard that the drug was no longer being covered by Alberta Health.”

Fortunately, the prescription was filled the day before the change came into effect so there was no charge for the medication.

“While it was awful and I was still slow to recover, it was night and day compared to what I went through in March,” she says. “The medication absolutely makes a difference for me.”

Peace contacted pharmacist Amber Shepherd at Pincher Creek Pharmasave to find out what the medication would have cost and was astonished to learn that the five-day treatment would be more than $1,400 the next time it is needed.

“Amber was great with getting things looked after for me when it came to filling the prescription and helpful in providing a look at what will happen the next time I catch Covid,” Peace says.

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“She ran a test with my group insurance, which is through the Alberta Chambers of Commerce, and was able to tell me that half of the amount will be covered.

“This will leave me with a big decision if I get sick again — do I forego treatment or fork out more than $700? That’s a tough question,” she says.

“What happens when we don’t have the option to afford treatment?”

This is a concern for her and for others, especially as there has been no public notification of the change.

Shepherd has not yet seen new prescriptions after the change in coverage, but worries about what this will mean for local patients.

“If they’re not covered it’s a big impact because you have to decide between eating and whether or not you get the medication,” she says.

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“It’s certainly going to make people think twice about accessing the medication and potentially going without to make sure they can still live, basically.”

Shepherd encourages anyone with questions or concerns about coverage to reach out to any pharmacy to confirm accessibility of the drug to them.

“It’s just going to be a case-by-case basis,” Shepherd says. 

Peace acknowledges that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a hefty price tag for everyone but is concerned that the cost of treatment skyrocketing for those who are immunocompromised will have a different expense in terms of severe outcomes.

For more information about Covid-19 outpatient treatment with updated eligibility criteria for Paxlovid, visit bit.ly/PaxlovidPC.

Pincher Creek welcomes a new face in its medical community Dr Helen Dion

Dr. Helen Dion embraces rural health care with compassion and dedication

Pincher Creek welcomes a new face in its medical community: Dr. Helen Dion, a dedicated and compassionate family physician with over a decade of experience in the medical field. Dr. Dion’s extensive education and diverse professional background make her a valuable asset to our town. She began her practice June 3 at Pincher Creek Health Centre’s ER and the Associate Clinic.

Educational journey and professional expertise

Dr. Dion holds a postgraduate certificate in family medicine and a postgraduate diploma in pediatric emergency medicine, both from the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.

Her journey in medicine has been marked by her commitment to providing comprehensive family medicine in various settings, including university-affiliated hospitals, clinical environments and rural family medicine units. This diverse experience has equipped her with the skills to offer holistic and patient-centred care.

In her practice, Dr. Dion integrates essential patient-supporting services such as home care, social services, public health, immunization clinics and mental health services. Her commitment to community-based primary care enables her to provide ongoing support to patients of all ages, ensuring that their diverse health-care needs are met comprehensively.

Pig roast at wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

Canadian experience and special interests

In Canada, Dr. Dion has enriched her medical practice through clinical observerships and clinical assessments in family medicine in Ponoka and Brooks, Alta. These experiences have solidified her dedication to serving rural communities, where she passionately provides patient-centred care.

Dr. Dion is particularly interested in women’s health, having completed specialized courses at the University of British Columbia in contraceptive method administration and other aspects of women’s health. She offers procedures such as skin biopsies, Pap smears, IUD insertion and suturing, ensuring comprehensive care for her patients.

 

Also read | Scholarship encourages students to pursue careers in health care

 

Scholarly contributions and professional recognition

Her scholarly contributions include co-authoring top-tier scientific publications, such as:

—Strategic Frameworks for Sustainability and Corporate Governance in Healthcare Facilities; Approaches to Energy-Efficient Hospital Management (Benchmarking: An International Journal, 2024).

—Hospitals Management Transformative Initiatives; Towards Energy Efficiency and Environmental Sustainability in Healthcare Facilities (Journal of Engineering, Design and Technology, 2023).

Dr. Dion is a licentiate of the Medical Council of Canada and has volunteered with the Canadian Red Cross in Ontario, showcasing her dedication to both her professional and humanitarian roles.

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Life outside the clinic

When not working, Dr. Dion enjoys staying active and embracing the outdoors throughout the seasons. She loves spending time with her family, walking her dogs and immersing herself in the beauty of nature.

Dr. Dion lived in Calgary for several years and spent time with her family in Toronto, where they lived in Oakville. While in Alberta, Dr. Dion and her family enjoyed visiting the beautiful landscapes of the Rocky Mountains, including Banff, Lake Louise and Waterton Lakes, as well as many cities like Cochrane, Okotoks and Edmonton. While living in Toronto, they visited many places around Ontario and Montreal, often driving by car to enjoy the stunning spring and fall scenes.

Dr. Dion is supported by her husband, Dr. Martin Evans, PhD, a professional engineer registered in Canada (both Alberta and Ontario), the United States and the United Kingdom. Dr. Evans holds a master’s in civil engineering from the University of Calgary, an MBA from Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, and a PhD in project management from the University of Bolton, Greater Manchester, England. He shares Dr. Dion’s commitment to community integration and professional excellence.

Choosing Pincher Creek

Dr. Helen Dion chose Pincher Creek for its diverse population, rich culture and warm, welcoming people. Her presence in Pincher Creek is more than just that of a health-care provider; she hopes to be a vital part of the community fabric, dedicated to improving the health and well-being of all residents.

Table setting of wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

Dr. Helen Dion’s integration into the Pincher Creek community signifies a commitment to enhancing the quality of health care and fostering a supportive, inclusive environment for all residents. Her expertise, passion and compassionate approach to medicine are sure to make a positive impact on our town’s health-care landscape.

UCP candidate Chelsae Petrovic – smiling woman with long, straight, light-brown hair, wearing a grey sweater

Claresholm politician enters UCP nomination race for Livingstone-Macleod

Chelsae Petrovic, a licensed practical nurse outside of town chambers, told Shootin’ the Breeze on Jan. 31 that she wants to return provincial politics to its grassroots within the riding. 

“As politicians, we need to take our orders from and listen to our constituents,” she said. 

She’d been generally uninterested in politics until she decided to run for council in Claresholm in the run-up to its October 2021 civic election. 

Her husband, Cody, suggested that she aim higher, so she went for the mayoral spot and won.

 

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“My specialty is advocating for people,” she said, adding that she resolved to run for the UCP’s riding nomination after some heart-wrenching conversations with local moms and dads last Christmas. 

“When I heard from parents who said they had to choose between buying presents for their children and filling up their gas tank … that’s what put me over the edge.” 

She wants to run under the UCP banner because, in her words, “I’m a mom; a wife; a Christian. I resonate more with the party’s traditional values.”

Petrovic said Premier Danielle Smith needs MLAs who will hold her to account while supporting her policy initiatives, including and especially Smith’s controversial Sovereign Alberta Within a United Canada Act.

 

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“I truly believe that’s a good thing for Alberta,” she told the Breeze

As an LPN at Claresholm General Hospital and the emergency department in Fort Macleod, Petrovic said she “lives and breathes” health care. Fixing health care has to be about listening to front-line nurses and doctors and getting them what they need to stay in their jobs, she said. 

Petrovic said she planned to submit her finalized application to the UCP’s constituency association in Livingstone-Macleod within the week.

She will have to contend with a number of other hopeful nominees, including Don Whalen of nearby Parkland. 

 

Aerial view of the Cowley Lions Campground on the Castle River in southwestern Alberta

 

The UCP reopened riding nominations on Jan. 26, roughly two months after the party disqualified Nadine Wellwood over her social media posts wherein she compared Canada’s Covid-19 measures to public policy in Nazi Germany. 

The party will close nominations in the riding Feb. 9, with the contest to be decided sometime in March, Petrovic said.

 

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Alberta government 2022 highlights from MLA Roger Reid

Our communities have received significant levels of investment and support from the Alberta government, and I am proud of the role I have been able to play in this. Alberta is leading the nation in job growth, which means our neighbours are going back to work and providing for their families again. And with investment pouring back into our province across a variety of sectors, I anticipate more growth ahead.

Our government is committed to tackling this affordability crisis, fixing our health-care system, maintaining our economic momentum and making life better for all Albertans.

Even though our economy is strong, far too many Alberta families are struggling to pay their bills right now due to inflation. To help families cope with these costs, we have passed a landmark inflation-relief package that will make life better for all Albertans, but particularly our most vulnerable.

This package includes targeted relief payments to seniors and families with dependent children under 18 whose household incomes are under $180,000 per year, as well as to Albertans receiving AISH, PDD and Income Support.

We have also introduced inflation relief that is non-targeted and benefits a wider segment of Albertans through making fuel and electricity more affordable.

We are cutting the full 13-cent fuel tax on gas and diesel between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2023, regardless of oil prices. This will ensure Albertans continue to pay among the lowest fuel prices in Canada.

 

 

In addition, we are providing $500 in electricity rebates for 1.9 million households, farms and small businesses. This will help Alberta households cope with high electricity prices at this challenging time of year. 

We can provide this substantial relief because our budget is back in balance and our fiscal position is strong. Alberta is succeeding again, and our United Conservative government is committed to reinvesting that success into everyday Alberta families, so they can grow and thrive. Our government has continually prioritized a balanced budget and strong fiscal policy, which has led to our thriving economic position.

Additionally, we have continued to focus on our resources and the economic growth that comes from diversifying and supporting these large industries. I am proud that our government has embraced these industries that help make Alberta the wonderful and successful province we all know and love.

Another major focus of our government is health-care reform. We have heard repeatedly from people across our province that changes need to be made to our health-care system. This is one of the reasons that our government is working to take immediate action to have AHS improve EMS response times, decrease surgical backlogs and cut emergency room wait times.

Additionally, our government knows that rural health care is unique and requires a different approach. This is why we are working to address health-care staffing challenges, particularly in rural areas, through improving health workforce planning, evaluating retention policies, leveraging the scope of allied health professionals, streamlining immigration and certification processes, and further increasing the number of training seats for health-care professionals in Alberta.

 

 

We are also working with municipalities, doctors and allied health providers to identify strategies to attract and retain health-care workers in rural Alberta.

These steps are just a part of the more long-term changes that will strengthen our health-care system and ensure that everyone has access to timely high-quality care.

One of the steps we are taking to do this is looking into creating more spots in post-secondary institutions for health care related fields. This will help ensure that more Albertans are able to pursue this valuable education closer to home. We are also looking into continued long-term consultation with front-line workers to improve the decision-making processes in our health-care system.

I am hopeful that these steps will be the foundation of ensuring our province and our people continue to have world-class health care for generations to come. 

 

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These are just a few of our major government accomplishments this past year. Our government is committed to continually taking steps to improve life here in Alberta. We are doing this by introducing legislation that is beneficial to Albertans in the most valuable ways while maintaining a strong fiscal position.

These types of policies have helped to stimulate our economy, which has led to our continued economic success. I am proud to be a part of a government that prioritizes not only what is best for our province but what is best for our people.

I look forward to seeing the continued success of our wonderful province and communities over the upcoming year. I know that this success would not be possible without all the wonderful people who call our communities home, which is why I would like to extend my sincerest wishes of a happy holiday season to you and your families. 

May 2023 be a year of health, happiness and prosperity for all!

Roger Reid
MLA, Livingstone Macleod

 

Shootin’ the Breeze welcomes submissions about local issues and activities. Personal views expressed in Mailbox articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect views of Shootin’ the Breeze management and staff. 

Opinion: Alberta hates rural maternity care

Alberta hates rural maternity care

I have been working as a rural physician for 16 years. My focus and my expertise has been surrounding maternity care and, to that end, I have worked as a low-risk maternity provider and a provider of rural surgery primarily to provide access to rural maternity care. I’ve been on numerous boards and committees to try to address access to labour and delivery services close to home.

Unfortunately, none of these have been successful to prevent the ongoing death of rural labour and delivery services.

Most heartbreaking to me, I no longer can support ongoing labour and delivery in my own community of Pincher Creek beyond May 31.

Perhaps this is just the sentiment of modern thought – we can no longer as a society accept the risk inherent in providing medical assistance to people who live outside of city limits. In order to access that quality of care you deserve you must live in communities where mail is delivered to street addresses instead of box numbers. 

I don’t know for sure whether all Albertans despise rural maternity care, there seem to be quite a few that prefer the personal nature of it. I don’t even know whether it is purely a maternity care thing, or if we really hate all rural medical care. 

I don’t want to generalize, but this could even be a Canadian thing: rural care appears to be disappearing across the country. What is clear to me, is that when there is a question on whether to support rural maternity care, they always decide against. 

The barriers to excellent rural maternity care are many: 

Due to risk, or lack of role-models, many family physicians have decided that maternity care, labour and delivery is an optional skill. There was a time when we counted it as a required skill to work here. It is not trained well in many programs, and low-risk maternity groups are often poorly supported. 

Rurally, there is no on-call funding to be available for delivery services. When advanced skills are needed for c-section and for neonatal resuscitation, the team size expands to at least four physicians and an army of allied health workers, such as RNs, LPNs and respiratory therapists, as well as the many lab and imaging technicians, EMS and other support staff working in the background. 

We are down to six physicians from 11 to serve a patient population of 10,000, and our emergency department has only become more busy. 

I have had the joy of working with many dedicated caregivers who attend when they are needed, even when not on-call. This care costs significantly. 

However, often forgotten is that when these services are not in place, the costs increase greatly due to emergency transportation, delivery en-route, increased NICU admissions, and emergency deliveries at a rural facility not set up for labour management in training or equipment. 

We already have managed high risk maternity patients beyond the scope of our site who were unable to get to a higher level hospital and we could no longer transport. This will continue to happen with even fewer resources. These harms are borne unevenly by those who don’t have the resources to access care. 

Gaps in the availability of this team impacts maternity before and after care as decisions are made based on when services may not be available. 

As a cost saving method, our hospital site manager will not provide OR or maternity nursing coverage when anesthesia or surgery is scheduled to be away. This creates further gaps as it blocks partial days or a day that later could be covered by changes to vacation plans or finding last-minute locum coverage.

There is no dedicated maternity nurse, which means each time a maternity patient arrives there is a scramble to see who is available, and a sense of frustration at the lack of staff availability, and that maternity coverage is considered additional work instead of being appropriately planned for with adequate staffing. 

More distressing, where I used to look forward to labour and delivery, now I have apprehension about whether I have the time or support to provide good care. 

Despite all these challenges, our goal has always been to provide as much coverage as possible to ensure the best care for our maternity patients. 

As the lone surgeon in Pincher Creek for the last five years, I have been on surgical call 24/7, barring scheduled time off. 

Management at AHS has noticed, and for reasons of well-being and safety have indicated they will cease paying me for on-call days past a certain number each year. I agree with the sentiment, this isn’t a reasonable call burden, and there are times I suffer more burnout than I care to admit.

I hear about how much they are spending to pay for the many locum obstetricians in Lethbridge, when we have been asking for support the last six years. They have not, instead, found additional coverage for surgery in Pincher Creek, or encouraged physicians to work here who have undergone my level of training, or even called to see how I’m coping with the call demands.

These steps might have a real impact on physician well-being. I don’t count my call by number of days, but by my kids’ volleyball games I’ve missed, family events I’ve not attended, robotics teams I haven’t coached, and the number of maternity patients transferred on my wife’s birthday when I was out of town. 

Alberta does not have a training program for advanced skills for family physicians. Once we have been trained to perform various procedures and surgeries, specialist physicians in the cities decide which of our procedures they don’t want us to do. This is called privileging. 

Being declined privileges has a real impact on applying to work in other regions. There has not been a surgeon privileged in Pincher Creek to provide all the skills they trained for in the last 12 years, myself included, and this may have impacted other surgeons choosing not to stay. 

Despite decisions being made in regional centres, there is not a reciprocal responsibility to provide support for the rural sites. Many models of creating a network of care have been suggested over the last several years. 

At its best this would create a seamless transition between rural sites and the referral centres, and a cohesive team of professionals from both rural and central facilities who could support at-risk rural sites with education, training, and perhaps even call coverage. All of them have collapsed without funding. 

So where is the leadership? Well, it changes frequently. Some new manager in a new role, with no memory of the prior issues, is surprised I’m not ecstatic when they have a new “Pathway Through Privileging.” 

I’ve continued to ask for a statement from AHS – “We support rural maternity care.” It has never come from any level of its bloated bureaucracy. 

There is no doubt that government has a role to play, and I won’t lessen the negative impact the last four years have had on rural physician supply. However, this is not a partisan issue. The reality is, rural health care does not matter to politicians. Rural votes are counted as won before the polls open and no one feels they need to pay anything except lip service to improvement of rural medical care. 

It’s not just that labour and delivery is special to me in particular, it is emblematic of how we care for vulnerable people in our society. It should be an equalizer, we all were once born; but the care women get is divided sharply along socioeconomic lines. In order to provide this care well, you need a dedicated team of people working within a well-supported system. 

Despite our dedication, we do not have that support. Most times, a rural maternity program collapses after a bad outcome where the lack of support results in finger-pointing to deliver blame. Often providers leave the profession. I can shoulder the work, and the call, but I can’t face the injury to my colleagues if I keep it going when I don’t believe any help is coming. 

Each person who could have some positive impact doesn’t feel it is their responsibility to help. 

If I were a younger man, I might be looking for greener pastures. I may yet look for other rural programs I can support for a little longer, but I intend to remain planted in Pincher Creek for now and I still have many other surgical skills that will remain useful. 

I know what happens to communities who end their maternity programs though, as they lose the need for a cohesive team to come together to celebrate new life and in doing so gain a little joy in a job well done. 

Jared Van Bussel MD CCFP ESS FRRMS
Pincher Creek, AB

 

Shootin’ the Breeze welcomes submissions about local issues and activities. Personal views expressed in Mailbox articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect views of Shootin’ the Breeze management and staff. 

 

More from the Breeze:

Maternity care on the ropes in Pincher Creek

Alberta government reaches tentative deal with AMA