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Tag: Jason Copping

Male with short, dark hair and woman with dark dark hair and cap, stand in front of an ambulance. Both are dressed in navy blue uniforms. Pat Neumann is the Pincher Creek fire chief and Sariah Brasnett is deputy-chief.

Wait times at urban hospitals tying up Pincher Creek ambulances

Increasing wait times at urban hospitals are delaying treatments for patients transferred by Pincher Creek Emergency Services’ ambulance crews and tying up paramedics, PCES Chief Pat Neumann told Shootin’ the Breeze.

Neumann said PCES crews have long experienced these delays at Calgary hospitals, especially at Foothills Medical Centre, which Neumann said handles most of the cardiac emergencies, advanced heart treatments and diagnostics, and complex traumas within Alberta Health Services’ south zone.

But similar bottlenecks have hit the Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge, which also takes routine and emergency patients from Pincher Creek and surrounding areas, and where Neumann said PCES crews have consistently reported emergency room delays since last summer. 

“Lethbridge is terrible now” for wait times, Neumann said.

“It’s to a point where, unless they actually are admitting the patient to the ER right away, (PCES crews) are typically waiting every time they go now.”

 

 

A return trip to Calgary will tie up a PCES ambulance crew for at least five hours, with crews spending at least three hours on trips to and from Lethbridge, the chief explained.

The department has two ambulances. When one has to travel to and from Calgary or Lethbridge, “That only leaves one ambulance in this community to do any other urgent transfers going out of this area, or to respond to any other emergency call,” Neumann said. 

Longer waits are the norm when urban hospitals increasingly provide routine treatment and diagnostics for rural patients. At the same time, Neumann said his crews now attend calls from town residents struggling to access primary care.

“We’re picking people up that are going to the (Pincher Creek) Health Centre because they don’t have a doctor. They don’t know what else to do to get the services they need.” 

 

 

 

Patients are showing up at the health centre sicker than they might have been if they’d had regular care from a family doctor, and the problem “compounds itself” as the hospital’s doctors and nurses scramble to fill the gap, Neumann explained. 

Six doctors now work at the health centre and its attached medical clinic, down from 11 several years ago, according to the clinic’s executive director, Jeff Brockmann. (Dr. Gavin Parker manages the health centre’s ER.)

Local ambulance calls have more than doubled since Neumann started at PCES roughly 20 years ago, with hospital transfers up by a similar margin. Crews that responded to just under 750 calls in 2005 were handling over 1,500 in 2018. Transfers meanwhile climbed from around 350 to just over 600 in the same period, according to PCES statistics. 

 

Ad requesting memorabilia from CNP music festival

 

The town’s population held at around 3,700 for much of that time, but shrank to around 3,400 by 2021, according to the Government of Alberta’s online regional dashboard. 

Just over 25 per cent of residents are 65 or older — a slight proportional increase over 2016, according to Statistics Canada’s 2021 census. As Neumann suggested, the town isn’t getting bigger — it’s getting older.

In response, Health Minister Jason Copping said the Alberta government is investing in rural health care. 

Copping said at a media roundtable Monday that the province had put up $1 million to explore options to train doctors at the University of Lethbridge and nearby Northwestern Polytechnic. 

 

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

 

“We recognize that we need to train and hire locally, and by getting those seats out in rural Alberta, the more likely that (graduating doctors) are going to stay,” he said.

Copping stressed that Alberta’s United Conservative Party provided many more millions in budget 2022, including the UCP’s new collective agreement with Alberta’s doctors. 

The province further hopes to attract foreign doctors by “leveraging immigration.” Seventeen doctors from outside Canada have agreed to work in Lethbridge, with some already working there. 

“I can tell you more is coming.… So, stay tuned,” Copping said. 

 

 

Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping giving bill 4 announcement from a podium in front of a background of provincial and Canadian flags.

Bill 4 announcement met with skepticism at Pincher Creek hospital

 

Pincher Creek’s chief doctor remains skeptical about prospects for an enduring partnership between Alberta doctors and the provincial government after Bill 4 announcement.

Dr. Gavin Parker, community medical director at Pincher Creek Health Centre, spoke with Shootin’ the Breeze Dec. 5, shortly after Health Minister Jason Copping vowed to repeal the province’s authority to unilaterally scrap its funding commitments to the Alberta Medical Association, which represents roughly 1,600 practising physicians across the province.

Copping said the Alberta Health Care Insurance Amendment Act, 2022 (Bill 4) heralds “a collaborative environment founded on mutual respect and trust” more than two years after the United Conservatives, under then-premier Jason Kenney, ended the AMA’s contract and imposed a new one.

The amendment, which Copping endorsed alongside AMA president Dr. Fredrykka Rinaldi, underscores a deal that the two sides brokered over the summer and which was ratified in September by 70 per cent of doctors, Copping said.

The UCP government will undo section 40.2 of the original act, used by former health minister Tyler Shandro in February 2020 to terminate the AMA’s last contract. In return, the AMA will drop its pending lawsuit against the government.

The proposed legislation comes roughly a week after Edmonton removed a cap on the number of daily patient visits that doctors can charge to Alberta Health Services.

 

 

The amendment pledges $750 million to “stabilize the health-care system” over the next four years, delivering a more than five per cent pay bump for family doctors. It also holds out “the potential” for binding arbitration should future contract negotiations break down, according to Copping.

Rinaldi thanked Copping for making a show of good faith, but stopped short of a glowing prognosis.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not a panacea,” she told reporters. 

Over at Pincher Creek Health Centre, Dr. Parker was less optimistic. Most of Bill 4’s substance had been hammered out months earlier, he said. Meanwhile, the medical community is perhaps less willing to trust the UCP than Copping let on.

“That’s great that they’ve said they’d take (section 40.2) off the books. But, I don’t think we can safely assume this kind of legislation will never come back,” Parker said. 

The health centre and attached medical clinic now have five full-time doctors, less than half of the 11 docs that were on-staff when Shandro tore up their contract.

 

 

“It was pretty disastrous at the time,” Parker remembered.

Two doctors left the health centre to practise in urban centres in Alberta. One left the province altogether, highlighting the AMA’s aborted contract in their resignation letter. Others left to retrain in other medical specializations, while another doctor retired, according to Parker.

The health centre has recently brought on extra staff and “Alberta is still a great place to practise medicine,” Parker said, noting that doctors are paid well.

Surgeries are still performed at the health centre. “We’re one of a few places that still provide obstetric care,” while there’s none to be had in neighbouring Fort Macleod or Cardston, Parker said.

And the clinic has held on to its patients, despite the shortage of doctors.

“But, it’s been really tough,” Parker said, “because we haven’t been able to provide the same level of service and efficiency that people have come to expect.”

 

 

Emergency room patients with routine health concerns can wait up to eight hours to see a doctor if that doctor is busy performing a cesarean section, he said.

The health director also praised former health minister Shandro for his role in bringing a new CT scanner to the health centre.

“I’m glad to see the province’s finances are better now than when we were looking at contract negotiations a few years ago,” Parker said.

Watch news conference