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Tag: Pincher Creek Physician Attraction and Retention Committee

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.

 

Ad for Sara Hawthorn, Pincher Creek and Crowsnest Pass realtor

 

“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 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.

 

 

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.

 

Woman with shoulder-length dark brown curly hair speaks into a microphone as one other woman and two men look on

Pincher Creek health-care forum draws large audience

Alberta’s rural health-care system needs more public funding, more efficiency and much more local autonomy, residents and esteemed panellists said at Pincher Creek’s health-care forum in late April.

Upwards of 150 people came for a one-hour discussion that saw residents, politicians and one riding candidate engage local doctors and public health policy researchers from the University of Calgary.

Between panellists who said the status quo isn’t holding and residents who said they felt ignored by the province, the conversation registered an uneasy mix of frustration and hope for the future. 

‘If you want to find someone who can fix this, find a mirror’

Drs. Gavin Parker and Kristy Penner, both of whom practise family and emergency medicine in Pincher Creek and neighbouring Crowsnest Pass, repeatedly called for more community involvement. 

“If anybody can help solve this, or at least start to work on this, it’s the people in this room,” Parker started off. 

“I do think there is hope,” he continued, qualifying in the next breath that “Clearly, what I’m doing and what we’re doing isn’t working.”

Penner’s prognosis was no less sparing.

“If we keep doing the same thing, we’re only going to be waiting longer” for routine medical services, she told the packed forum, painting graver implications for women and the elderly. 

“You’re going to have to leave [home] to have a baby — you won’t be able to get surgery in Pincher Creek or Crowsnest Pass. You won’t be able to get home care or long-term care in your community. And as a senior, you’ll have to move out of your community to access long-term geriatric care.”

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta is working to fast-track foreign-trained doctors’ credentials, while licensed practical nurses are picking up the slack at Pincher Creek’s medical clinic, according to Parker.

But the system can’t build capacity when there aren’t enough doctors to train med school graduates, much less foreign doctors. 

“Our voice is stronger when it’s collective,” Parker said, acknowledging the residents on Pincher Creek’s Attraction and Retention Committee, the citizen/council body that helps settle incoming doctors within the community, among other functions.

Parker also noted that Albertans who work outside of medicine make up a significant proportion of the CPSA’s board of directors.  

“So, if you want to find someone who can fix this, find a mirror. That’s who,” he said. 

It’s Friday night: Do you know where your MLA is?

Audience speakers questioned how civic participation could reverse the Government of Alberta’s concentration of authority in a sclerotic Alberta Health Services, the provincial health authority that executes government policy. 

“I’ll vote for any party that starts taking that system apart and returning power to the community so that we can make a difference with some of the things you’re asking us to make a difference on,” one speaker said. 

Another speaker noted that United Conservative MLA Roger Reid, who represents Livingstone-Macleod, was conspicuously absent. 

“Where’s our MLA?” the speaker asked, drawing groans from the crowd.  

“Is anybody from the Alberta government here?” another speaker asked. “Maybe that’s part of the problem,” the speaker suggested, drawing thunderous applause.

In the crowd were town Coun. Sahra Nodge, MD Coun. Dave Cox and Reeve Rick Lemire, and a host of doctors and nurses from Pincher Creek Health Centre. 

The NDP’s Kevin Van Tighem, the only riding candidate to show, suggested that Pincher Creek has the talent and the grit to restore the health centre to a model of rural health care. 

“Do we have to change ourselves? Or can we change medicine so it fits into our community without the community changing?” he asked from the mic. 

The UCP’s 2023 provincial budget funds public health care to the tune of $24.5 billion, a roughly four per cent annual increase. This year’s budget includes $105 million for capital projects under the UCP’s Rural Health Facilities Revitalization Program. 

Don’t expect a quick fix 

Funding and educational programs need to deliver a robust, “team-based” rural health-care model that empowers Indigenous and rural learners to practise medicine, Dr. Penner explained. 

More immediately, Penner said, doctors-in-training have complained about a lack of affordable housing and limited child-care options in Crowsnest Pass.

Melissa Fredette, a registered nurse at the health centre, vice-chair of the town’s Attraction and Retention Committee and mother of three, implored the community to promote Pincher Creek as a career destination for young health-care providers. But Fredette and her colleagues need more local support.  

“We’ve just come out of a pandemic. We’re tired in health care,” she said. “We would love to have more help from the people here.”

Once it’s gone, it may never come back

Aaron Johnston, associate dean of rural medicine at the U of C, warned after the forum that many rural health-care teams are on the verge of collapse. 

An under-resourced team “works until it doesn’t work — until there’s the loss of that last one person,” he said. “Lose a rural anesthetist and say goodbye to that town’s surgical team. Lose a team, and good luck restoring the services it was designed to provide.”

“Imagine how difficult it is to recruit 10 highly-trained medical staff at the exact same time,” he suggested, “because that’s what it takes to reboot these services once they’re gone.”