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Tag: Pincher Creek Health Centre

Rita Spencer and Joyce Taylor in front of the Windy Slopes Health Foundation recognition wall at the Pincher Creek Health Centre

Windy Slopes has successful year of fundraising

We would like to begin this year’s Windy Slopes Health Foundation report by thanking the people of our community (near and far) for their generosity in supporting what we continue to do to enhance patient care at the Pincher Creek Health Centre.

In these economic times, with the cost of everything on the rise, we have been overwhelmed with gratitude for your continued support. We could not do what we do without all of you.

It has been another successful year for Windy Slopes with donations and equipment purchases. We were able to raise a total of $91,734.72 in donations, memorials, grants, Trees of Hope campaign, etc., making our total purchases for 2023 at $79,093.79.

As of February 2024, Trees of Hope has brought in a total of $25,787.50, once again exceeding our target of $25,000. Donations for the campaign were made by private citizens and local businesses, service groups and interest groups. The Trees of Hope campaign will allow the foundation to help refurbish the palliative family room.

The foundation, with support of the site manager, was successful in supplying the Pincher Creek Health Centre with a variety of equipment and programs.

These purchases range from a Giraffe Warmer for infants, a labour and delivery cart, stretchers, therapeutic drums and other items to enhance the care at our site.

 

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Our most ambitious undertaking, which took over two years to complete, was the grounds enhancement project. Headed by board member Diane Burt Stuckey, along with consultation from the site manager and grounds employees, shrubs and trees were planted this past summer to enhance the existing grounds.

2023 brought to the foundation three new board members and we thank them for joining our team. One board member moved to our members-at-large list, and one has moved away from the community. We thank them for their participation and dedication to Windy Slopes.

Thank you to the local businesses for their continued support by including us in things such as the Co-op’s Fuel Good Days, Tim Hortons Smile Cookie Day, McDonald’s grand opening, WinWin participation, Co-op Agro, and our local media, Shootin’ the Breeze, for sharing our success stories.

We continue to upgrade the Wall of Recognition at the health centre as needed, with the help of Signs Unlimited. The donation box in the waiting room is checked regularly and acknowledgments are sent out promptly.

Thank you, again, from the Windy Slopes Health Foundation board: chairperson Suzanne Curran, vice-chair BJ Scott, Dennis Robin, DonaLee Smith, Harley Crowshoe, Diane Burt Stuckey, Reona Erickson, Tracey Corriea, Joyce Taylor, Jo Baker, Rita Spencer and administrative assistant Michelle Visser.

 

 

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Christmas lights on metal tree outlines of Windy Slopes Health Foundation's Trees of Hope Campaign in Pincher Creek

Pincher Creek Trees of Hope campaign is on

As the holiday season approaches, Windy Slopes Health Foundation has launched its 33rd annual Trees of Hope fundraising campaign.

The campaign runs each year to provide equipment or programs to enhance patient care at Pincher Creek Health Centre.

After consulting trustees and the site manager, Tracey Correia, the foundation’s project this year is to help in the renovation process of the palliative care family room.

“For family and friends of those who are in palliative care, it is important to have a welcoming space to refresh, get some work done, or to gather as a family during a stressful time. It improves the ability to provide support to the patient,” says Michelle Visser, administrator with Windy Slopes.

The room is slated for a new paint job, flooring, furniture and more, which is not a cheap undertaking. Funds raised from the campaign will go directly toward the upgrades, and Windy Slopes has set this year’s fundraising goal at $25,000.

The 2022 Trees of Hope campaign raised money for projects centred around pediatric and neonatal patients. Windy Slopes had a fundraising goal of $27,000 and raised over $31,000.

The foundation purchased a Broselow pediatric cart and Lifepak 15, which was considered a great asset to the pediatric unit at the local health centre.

 

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“With any funds raised, whether through Trees of Hope, in memoriam, or general donations, we are dedicated to enhancing patient care, supporting priority equipment and program needs,” says Michelle.

“We use donations made to the foundation wisely and with much consultation.”

To make a donation, you can visit the Windy Slopes website at windyslopes.ca, send an e-Transfer to the foundation at windyslopespc@gmail.com or mail a cheque to PO Box 2554, Pincher Creek, AB, T0K 1W0. You may also drop off donations in person at the health centre.

On behalf of Windy Slopes Health Foundation, thank you to those who provide their support in enhancing patient care for Pincher Creek and area.

 

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Rachel VanHalen, a woman with short brown hair and wearing a red vest, pushes a cart with activity bins at Pincher Creek Health Centre

Pincher Creek Health Centre seeking volunteers to support patients

Alberta Health Services is actively recruiting volunteers to help support patients at Pincher Creek Health Centre.

The call was put out across social media by AHS’s volunteer resources co-ordinator (south zone), Michelle Wilkinson, who says the hospital is in need of patient visitors, pets to visit with patients and home-care visitors.

“The ideal volunteer would be outgoing and offer support by engaging in conversation, listening, or simply spending time with patients who may be feeling lonely or isolated,” she says.

Preferred applicants would be expected to work collaboratively with health-care providers to ensure patients and their families are getting improved care and experiences.

Health centre volunteers typically approach the role with a desire to help others, and provide compassion to patients when needed. 

Anyone interested in helping out would need to be available 12 to 16 hours a month, with hours spread across three to four shifts. Applicants would need to commit to a minimum of one year of volunteering with Alberta Health Services.

“We offer flexible scheduling, allowing volunteers to find a time that fits with their current schedule,” Michelle says.

 

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

 

She notes that volunteering comes with numerous personal and professional benefits, including a sense of fulfillment, community engagement and career enhancement.

“Helping patients during challenging times can be deeply rewarding and provide a strong sense of purpose. It is a way to give back to one’s community and make a positive impact on the lives of others,” she says.

“Volunteering in a health-care setting can also serve as a stepping stone for individuals interested in pursuing careers in health care. It provides exposure to the health-care field and networking opportunities. Regardless of the role, volunteer experience looks great on a resume.”

AHS offers several courses to volunteers to help them in their roles, free of charge. Twice a year, it offers a palliative-care training course to volunteers to teach them how to assist patients who are at the end of life.

Those interested in applying to help patients at the health centre are encouraged to apply directly online. 

Applicants must complete AHS’s volunteer onboarding process, which includes a criminal background check, a health screen and two references. They must also participate in confidentiality and privacy training, as well as online, site and program-specific orientations and training.

For more information, contact Michelle directly by email or by phone at 403-562-5024.

Group of people, mostly seniors, seated at a meeting

Recent Pincher Creek hospital closures worry residents

Following three recent emergency department closures at Pincher Creek Health Centre, area residents are concerned over the facility’s future, something very apparent at an Aug. 15 engagement session with Alberta Health Services.

“It is not our intent to close the hospital,” Dr. Sandra Stover, associate zone medical director for AHS and a palliative care physician from the Beaver Mines area, told the audience of nearly 200.

“It’s our goal (as doctors) to keep the emergency department open,” added Dr. Bev Burton, the community’s acting medical director, when asked to speak to the large gathering.

Acknowledging there have been challenges in the past, Burton said she is hopeful that things will improve.

At the centre of the recent closures: the continuing struggle to recruit new physicians and the challenge to keep them, once here. The lengthy process, which can take up to nine months, even after an agreement is reached, doesn’t help either.

Right now, Pincher Creek is served by five doctors, plus one on maternity leave. In the past, the town has had up to 11.

“Some of the delay is the recruitment process but some of it is through the College of Physicians. It’s simply a lack of people who can mentor or sponsor,” Stover said.

Staffing shortages and ER closures aren’t isolated to just the southwest, or even Alberta. This can create hardship for families in rural communities where the next hospital is an hour or more away and, for some, the additional challenge of getting there is very real.

 

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

 

“What happened? We came out of Covid and all of sudden there are no doctors,” said Edna Fairbrother, a member of Piikani Nation.

Getting in to see a doctor, for Fairbrother, was never a problem until recently.

“We need to find some solutions because it’s not just Pincher Creek. It’s my community as well,” she said.

“Retaining physicians is even more important than recruiting them,” Dr. Stover said, following the meeting.

“We can always recruit a physician but it’s harder retaining one. People want to have a long relationship with their doctor,” Stover said.

“We have a great relationship with the town and MD. They’ve even set up their own committee.” 

With an aging population, good health care is a big pillar of any community and several times during the course of the evening, AHS officials recognized the large turnout.

We can see the community here is very concerned about their health care and rightly so,” Stover said. “After all, they have a big stake in it.”

While obstacles remain in recruiting and retaining physicians, the news on the evening wasn’t all bad. In fact, there might be some promise.

A new physician assistant is set to begin in September to fill a small part of the current gap. Negotiations are also underway with three international medical graduates, one of whom could be practising in the community by the spring of next year.

white and red megaphone on green background announcing weekend closure of Pincher Creek Emergency Department

Pincher Creek ER closed overnight Saturday and Sunday

Pincher Creek will be without emergency room service overnight Saturday and Sunday this weekend, a second closure necessary this month due to a physician shortage.

This impacts both local residents and visitors to the community.

Alberta Health Services issued a notice this morning stating that the emergency department of the Pincher Creek Health Centre will close at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 22 and reopen at 7:30 Sunday morning.

The ER will close again at 7:30 p.m. Sunday and reopen Monday morning at 7:30.

Nursing staff will remain on-site to care for inpatients and will have physician support by phone.

Residents are advised that the health centres in Crowsnest Pass, Fort Macleod and Cardston, along with Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge, will accept patients from the area, and to call 911 in the case of an emergency.

Health Link 811 is also available for non-emergency, health-related questions at any time.

Pincher Creek Emergency Services will respond as usual and facilitate transfers to neighbouring sites as necessary.

 

Dr. Akarakiri, a young black man with short hair, moustache and trimmed beard, outside Pincher Creek's Associate Clinic

New doctor joins staff at Pincher Creek hospital, clinic

Pincher Creek has a new doctor, and he plans to stay for years to come. 

Dr. Kunmi Akarakiri, a Nigerian expat with over 10 years’ experience in rural medicine, is a welcome addition to Pincher Creek Health Centre’s ER and neighbouring Associate Clinic, where a handful of GPs have held the fort for years. 

His arrival in mid May brought the number of full-time docs at the centre and clinic from five to six, according to the clinic’s executive director, Jeff Brockmann. 

Another doctor had joined both rosters in the new year, but is no longer practising at the clinic. 

“The adaptation for me has been very easy,” Akarakiri told Shootin’ the Breeze.

It took him a little over a year after landing in Canada in December 2020 to clear most of the regulatory hurdles set by Alberta’s College of Physicians & Surgeons. 

“I was lucky,” he said, noting that the process can take two to three years for many foreign-trained GPs. 

He’d never seen snow before passing his first winter in Kamloops, B.C. 

“When I got there, I thought to myself, ‘The snow is bad. But it’s not that bad.’ Then I moved to Calgary,” he said with a laugh.

If the white stuff was bad west of the Rockies, it wasn’t long before he suffered a minor case of frostbite in Cowtown.

 

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When he toured Pincher Creek with ER chief Dr. Gavin Parker last August, the only concern he left with had to do with the town’s notorious chinooks. 

“I was told that, sometimes, the wind can blow against you,” he told the Breeze in what has to be the understatement of the year. 

It remains for him to wrap up the college’s supervised practical experience, which Brockman explained will be monitored by a doctor from outside the community, in order to avoid any conflict of interest. 

Akarakiri said he then hopes to sign a five-year contract with Alberta Health Services. 

In the meantime, he plans to settle into his new rental — a rare find in a small town that’s up against a housing crunch — and then welcome his wife, Hephzibah, and their young daughter, Megan. 

“It’s a nice community,” he said, complimenting Canadians’ friendliness and easy-going nature. 

Akarakiri graduated medical school in Nigeria in 2012. He practised rural medicine for seven years in the southwestern town of Ile-Ife before moving to Canada, he told the Breeze. 

Learn more about Dr. Akarakiri in this episode of The Innovative Practitioner.

 

 

Red sign with white arrow and text directing to emergency room

Pincher Creek ER temporarily closed on long weekend

The Friday afternoon of the Canada Day long weekend is not when anyone wants to hear of an emergency room closure that would impact both local residents and visitors to the community.

Alberta Health Services issued a notice around 2:30 stating that the emergency department of the Pincher Creek Health Centre would close at 8 a.m. Saturday and not be accessible until Monday at 8 a.m.

Residents were advised that the health centres in Crowsnest Pass, Fort Macleod and Cardston, along with Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge, would accept patients from the area, and to call 911 in the case of an emergency.

Pincher Creek Emergency Services was charged with responding as usual and facilitating transfers to neighbouring sites as necessary.

 

 

“These closures only happen after exhausting all other options,” AHS said in a written statement Tuesday. “Alberta Health Services (AHS) is committed to maintaining ongoing access to health care in Pincher Creek, including the Emergency Department (ED), and are doing all we can to ensure patients receive the care they need when they need it.”

Specific questions regarding the number of patients turned away at the door or sent to other locations did not receive a response. 

Nor did the more pressing question: is this a sign of things to come?

white and red megaphone on green background announcing weekend closure of Pincher Creek Emergency Department

Pincher Creek ED closed Saturday and Sunday

The emergency department of Pincher Creek Health Centre will close Saturday, July 1, at 8 a.m. and reopen Monday, July 3, at 8 a.m.

The temporary closure is the result of a physician shortage to cover the department over the weekend, and regular 24-hour service will resume Monday morning.

Inpatient care will be provided by nursing staff, who will have access to physician support by phone.

In the event of a medical emergency, Alberta Health Services advises residents and visitors to the community to call 911. Pincher Creek Emergency Services will respond as usual and facilitate transfers to neighbouring sites as necessary.

Emergency services are also available at the health centres in Crowsnest Pass, Fort Macleod and Cardston, as well as at Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge.

Non-emergency support is also available by calling Health Link at 811, and AHS advises that “individuals requiring non-emergency medical care are also encouraged to call their family physician.”

 

Woman with long, dark hair in black scrubs between twin women, both with short light brown hair and glass, with one in a pink jacket and the other in a blue jacket.

Pincher Creek hospital staff up for Rhapsody Awards

Several of Pincher Creek’s front-line health-care workers are up for awards in rural medicine.

Nominated for this year’s Rhapsody Rural Health-care Heroes Award are the nurses on Pincher Creek Health Centre’s maternity ward, according to Melissa Fredette, assistant head nurse and vice-chair of the town’s Attraction and Retention Committee. 

The health centre has held fast throughout the tumultuous years of the Covid-19 pandemic and the nominees richly deserve some recognition, Fredette told a room full of nurses, doctors, and support staff at the centre April 26.

 

 

Drs. Bev Burton and Tracy Burton are up for Rhapsody Rural Physician Awards. 

The awards, named after the “effusively enthusiastic or ecstatic expression of feeling” captured in the Oxford English Dictionary definition of “rhapsody,” have recognized excellence in an increasingly tough medical field since 2002, according to the Rural Health Professions Action Plan’s website. 

Rural medicine is tremendously rewarding and the committee has done equally tremendous work helping newly arrived doctors find their feet, the Burton sisters told Shootin’ the Breeze.

 

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Like every doc in town, the Burtons “do it all” when it comes to rural family medicine. 

They have to. 

All nominations were backed by a multitude of supporting letters from people in Pincher Creek and the neighbouring MD, Fredette said. 

Fredette also thanked Jeff Brockman, executive director at Pincher Creek’s Associate Medical Clinic, for his help with the nominations, as well as the Attraction and Retention Committee’s Dan Crawford, who helped prepare for the presentation in late April.

 

Three women – one with short brown hair and glasses wearing a black-and-white striped shirt, one with long dark hair wearing scrub with a black top and purple pants, and the other with long blonde hair and glasses wearing light-blue scrubs, pose with a man with short grey hair and moustache with sunglasses on his ball cap and casual clothes.
The Pincher Creek Attraction and Retention Committee’s Tracey Correia, left, RN Melissa Fredette, Dr. Ashley Rommens and Dan Crawford came out to support the health centre’s maternity-care team and the Burton sisters last week.

 

Province to offer sexual assault care training for doctors and nurses

Tanya Fir, parliamentary secretary for the status of women, said last week that the province will cover tuition for registered nurses, nurse practitioners, registered midwives and doctors invited to take the Rural Sexual Assault Care program, an online course offered by Grande Prairie’s Northwestern Polytechnic. 

The 12-hour self-study course is designed to familiarize health-care providers with sexual assault testing and evidence (SATE) procedures and to build on the emotional skills needed to treat survivors. The overarching aim is to make SATE testing more available in rural hospitals so that survivors don’t need to undergo the procedure in far-flung cities.

“Every person who’s been sexually assaulted deserves access to care and forensic evidence collection, regardless of where they live,” Fir said. 

“Sometimes, in certain rural areas, there may not be health-care providers that have this training or are comfortable administering it,” she added.

Dr. Gavin Parker, lead physician at Pincher Creek Health Centre’s emergency room, said he welcomes the program’s intent, but cautioned that staff crunches are the limiting factor, not training gaps. 

Parker noted that the hours-long procedures sap vital staff resources because SATE kits are designed to gather evidence of a crime. 

“There’s a very strict chain of evidence that we have to follow,” he said, explaining that SATE procedures cannot be interrupted. The necessary examination is so intimate and invasive that Parker chooses to perform the procedure alongside a nurse, which takes responding nurses off the ER floor. 

 

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Sexual assault often brings trauma that needs urgent medical attention, but Parker said evidence gathering isn’t a medical priority. 

“The more we can do on-site, the better…. But I can’t in good conscience ignore other patients in the health centre who might get hurt in the two to three hours it takes to perform the test.” 

Parker said he’s performed the procedure in small hospitals and will continue to do so when he can, qualifying that it’s not uncommon that survivors treated at the health centre are transported for SATE procedures by the nearest sexual assault response team, at Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge. Sometimes, survivors have to drive themselves, he said. 

“If the province really wanted to be serious about this, they’d pay for designated physicians to be on call,” Parker said.  

The RSAC program is funded through a $1-million investment the province announced last fall. 

Participation is voluntary and the program doesn’t require a practicum, according to Fir and Michelle Wallace, Northwestern’s associate dean of continuing education. 

The program is set to launch April 3, according to Wallace.

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. 

 

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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. 

 

 

“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. 

 

 

Dr. Jared Van Bussel – smiling white male wearing blue paisley shirt

Maternity care on the ropes in Pincher Creek

Dr. Jared Van Bussel, who specializes in obstetrics, will stay on as a general physician and trauma surgeon at the Pincher Creek Health Centre and will continue his practice at the attached Associate Clinic, he told Shootin’ the Breeze on Thursday.

“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,” he wrote in an open letter.

“If my colleagues call me, I’ll always show up,” he said.

But it’s unlikely that the health centre can handle scheduled births, especially routine C-sections, without a dedicated obstetric surgeon.

The man has been on call for 70 per cent of his waking life for years, apart from his scheduled time off. The burnout is real, but Van Bussel repeatedly stressed that he’s scaling back his practice because of what he considers an acute and profoundly systemic lack of provincial support. 

“Alberta hates rural maternity care,” he wrote, telling the Breeze that in his 16 years in rural family medicine, he’d seen too many gaps in patient care and professional training for new doctors, and too many shortsighted cost-saving measures he said were untenable.

 

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Things came to a head on his birthday, Jan. 16, when he received a letter from Alberta Health Services reminding him of the funding limits for on-call services paid for by an Alberta Health grant program.

“Please be advised AHS is unable to compensate you for (physician on-call) services in GP Surgery after you have reached 255.5 days of service,” the letter states.

AHS South Zone declined an interview for this story, but explained in a written statement that Van Bussel would continue to be paid, including for his on-call services.

“The South Zone recently sent a courtesy letter to physicians who were approaching the limited days paid for on-call time under the provincial Physician On Call Program,” the statement reads.

“We do not believe that any physicians (in Alberta) will go over their 255.5 days of on-call coverage,” AHS said in a followup statement.

The South Zone added that these courtesy letters “go out each year,” while other doctors at the health centre also received letters in the new year.

 

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

 

Van Bussel said  he’d never received any such letter before Jan.16, especially not in his six years as the town surgeon.

“They’ll always pay me for coming in, but they won’t pay to support physicians or the community in general,” he said.

As heartbreaking as it was for him to write his letter, he said he’d been crafting it for a long time. He’d told his Pincher Creek colleagues it was coming about a month ago.

“I’m willing to reconsider, but I just don’t see it,” he said.

The Government of Alberta is plainly not about to prioritize rural health care, he explained, and “when it feels like everything is pushing against it, it feels to me that we’re approaching a breaking point.”

 

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Setting aside AHS’s “tone-deaf” letter,  Van Bussel reiterated that he wasn’t concerned about his take-home pay.

“I want to pull attention away from any one event and draw that attention to rural maternity care.”

With AHS insisting that “Physicians are a cornerstone of our health-care system,” Van Bussel said he’d made it known for years that it wasn’t sustainable for him to live on call while resources dwindled at the health centre.

The health centre serves around 10,000 patients over a broad swath of southwestern Alberta.

Its team of doctors is down from 11 to six and, instead of asking how the province could do more to help, AHS sent Van Bussel a letter that seemed to say no help was coming.

“I hope this will become a discussion point in the community. I hope that people will start asking their decision-makers why this is the case,” he said.

 

Read Dr. Van Bussel’s open letter

Read AHS letter to Dr. Van Bussel

 

 

 

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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.

 

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“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.

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Male youth pins poppy to Remembrance Day cross held by female youth, while another male youth stands at attention, on the front page of Shootin' the Breeze. Alberta news from Pincher Creek area and Crowsnest Pass.

Nov. 9, 2022

We will remember them

Peter Van Bussel and Abigail Rigaux receive a poppy from Walker Anderson at the MHHS Remembrance Day assembly in Pincher Creek.

Kids trick or treating in lion costumes – one roaring and one smiling on the front page of Shootin' the Breeze. Alberta news from Pincher Creek area and Crowsnest Pass.

Nov. 2, 2022

Lion’s share of fun

Ames and Miles were spotted enjoying Spooky Town and the great weather Saturday at Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in Pincher Creek.

Signing papers of contract negotiation

Alberta government reaches tentative deal with AMA

It’s been a tough year for Alberta physicians.

Pandemic aside, doctors across the province have been practising in an insecure partnership with the Alberta government since the province unilaterally terminated the master agreement with the Alberta Medical Association in an order of council on Feb. 20, 2020.

Negotiations between the government and AMA had been mired for months before the government pulled the plug. The central issue was the province’s insistence that physician compensation remain at $5.4 billion a year, which doctors said didn’t fairly compensate clinics experiencing inflation and rising numbers of patients requiring care.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro and AMA president Paul Boucher announced a new, tentative agreement had been reached on Feb. 26. Minister Shandro said negotiations proceeded on the basis of fiscal sustainability, fair and equitable solutions for physicians, and maintaining focus on patient care.

“I’m confident that what we’re presenting doctors with is an agreement that provides certainty, provides stability, and it does so in the best interests of patients, the best interests of doctors, and the best interests of all Albertans,” he said.

Finally reaching a deal, added Dr. Boucher, was a critical step in helping the province get through the pandemic and bringing the health-care system back to full strength.

 

Ad for Dragons Heart Quilt Shop in Pincher Creek

“This year of Covid-19 has changed the health-care system and Albertans forever,” Dr. Boucher said. “I know we will find a way through the pandemic, but we also need to look beyond it.”

No specific details of the agreement have been publicly released, as the tentative deal must be ratified by the AMA. One hundred and forty members of the representative forum, which makes up the AMA medical leadership, will meet virtually this week to discuss the agreement.

If approved, the forum will recommend to the AMA’s board of directors that the matter be presented to a general AMA membership vote. The process is anticipated to take about three weeks.

The tentative agreement is a step in the right direction, says Dr. Sam Myhr of the Associate Clinic in Pincher Creek. “We obviously work better together, and that’s been the goal all along,” she says.

Dr. Myhr represents the province’s rural physicians in the representative forum as the sectional president of rural health.

 

Rural physicians have faced multiple challenges this past year, she says, and terminating the master agreement had an especially detrimental effect on rural practices as the lack of stability deterred recruits from committing to rural areas. Pincher Creek, for example, lost two such physicians who initially expressed interest in coming to the community.

The lack of formalized agreement establishing doctors’ working relationship with the government led local physicians to notify the government last summer they would discontinue hospital care at the Pincher Creek Health Centre unless a master agreement was signed.

Though at the request of town council the group never fully withdrew care, Dr. Myhr says the local advocacy of physicians and community members helped move the situation toward the tentative deal.

“It was tough; those were not easy times,” she says. “But it helped keep the issue in the limelight, and it would have been easy for it to sort of get swept under the rug if there weren’t places like Pincher Creek and other rural sites that have been continually standing up and saying no, this isn’t OK.”

Community members, she adds, are especially to be credited for their advocacy with elected officials and for their public support of doctors that “kept us going.”

 

Moving forward in co-operation, Dr. Myhr continues, is now the best step, though she acknowledges the actions of the provincial government last year will still weigh on physicians’ minds as they consider voting on the new agreement.

“We all need to put down our swords to some degree and just work together, but I think everyone is quite wary,” she says.

Rebuilding trust with physicians will require concrete action from government officials, such as the health minister visiting the Pincher Creek hospital, which was initially scheduled back in January but was postponed due to rising Covid-19 cases.

The visit is still something that Dr. Myhr feels is important, as it would showcase what rural physicians are able to accomplish and why decisions made in Edmonton have such a dramatic impact on rural medicine.

“It would be an important step to show they are willing to hear us, that they are willing to collaborate, and they are willing to try and understand rural medicine better,” she says.

The health minister’s office has expressed interest in rescheduling the visit but says plans to do so will proceed once the number of Covid diagnoses is low enough to make such a visit safe to do.

 

Nurse Trudi Bennett and Dr. Gavin Parker show a new roller board

Windy Slopes Health Foundation reports successful 2020

Despite a crazy and tumultuous 2020, Windy Slopes Health Foundation persevered and had a successful year, purchasing several new pieces of equipment for the Pincher Creek hospital.

The year began with half a new board of trustees for the foundation after several members retired or stepped down for personal reasons. Maggie Olson became chairwoman and Reona Erickson took over the role of administrative assistant from Natalie Barfuss, who moved on to another job.

Suddenly, the Covid-19 pandemic struck Alberta and all face-to-face meetings were being moved online and held via Zoom.

“We not only were getting used to new trustees and myself being the new chairperson, but then we had to do Zoom meetings, and I’m afraid I’m an old lady and it was quite the experience,” Maggie says with a chuckle. “We’ve done very, very well with it.”

A generous $10,000 donation from Twin Butte resident Phil Rickard went toward keeping patients at the hospital connected to loved ones through the purchase of iPads and mobile phones, as well as general comfort items. Windy Slopes donated $1,000 of the funds to Aakom-Kiyii Health Services in Brocket.

 

The pandemic couldn’t stop businesses from holding their annual charity events for the foundation, either. Tim Hortons donated proceeds from its weeklong Smile cookie campaign, and Co-op Gas Bar raised funds through its annual Fuel Good Day. Pincher Creek Credit Union also showed its community-minded giving spirit and donated roller boards.

Several service groups in the area displayed their true colours with generous donations. These groups include the Pincher Cowley Roaring Lions, Cowley Lions, and Pincher Creek Lions.

“They all came through with donations still, even in the Covid world,” says Maggie. “We were very blessed to still have their support.”

Workers at the Pincher Creek Health Centre participated in the WinWin Staff Lottery. The 50-50 is held across Alberta, with half the proceeds going to the winner’s local health foundation. Last year, two winners were chosen, one of whom happened to be from Pincher Creek. Because of this, Windy Slopes Health Foundation received over $8,000.

Throughout the year, the foundation applied for several grants, and received general donations from residents of the Pincher Creek area, including an in-trust donation from an estate. Grants were awarded by Shell and Canada Growers, and an application was sent to Alberta Health Services, but nothing has been heard yet.

 

Normally, Windy Slopes also applies for a grant through Pieridae Energy, but was unable to do so last year due to a capital equipment freeze.

“Right when their deadlines were due, we didn’t have any equipment that we could actually let them know about … so we had to just hold on that,” says Maggie.

Though the health foundation’s annual casino couldn’t be held in 2020, it was still able to use funds left over from the 2019 event to purchase equipment for the hospital.

Considering the worldwide pandemic, Maggie says Windy Slopes was flabbergasted by the success it had last year. In fact, donation numbers were nearly on par with previous years.

“We are so lucky. We have so many such generous, generous people,” adds Maggie.

Windy Slopes Health Foundation capped off 2020 with its Trees of Hope campaign, which proved to be highly successful.

Thanks to everyone’s support, the foundation was able to purchase $46,337.81 worth of equipment, which will greatly benefit Pincher Creek Health Centre.