A dozen doctors from Cold Lake, Bonnyville, Lac La Biche, and St. Paul spoke in March about how provincial changes to how doctors do business would hurt the area, including Dr. Stander, left.
The Cold Lake hospital was quiet on Friday morning as Dr. Joe Stander, a physician in the city for 27 years, responded to questions about COVID-19 and the ongoing dispute between the provincial government and the Alberta Medical Association.
With many hospital procedures stripped down during the pandemic, traffic is quieter in the health centre, but the risk remains high.
“I’m not sure stress, but concern is a better word,” said Dr. Stander.
“The health care workers and all the essential workers certainly have a concern about being exposed.”
As of Monday morning, there are no active cases of COVID-19 in the Lakeland area: three cases in the Cold Lake area have been resolved and seven in the Bonnyville area.
He doesn’t have concerns about the amount of personal protective equipment the staff have in Cold Lake, but if there are more cases locally, how do hospitals handle them?
“I’m worried though about the surge that is going to come and I’m worried specifically about when is it going to happen, how big is it going to be and will we be in a position to continue providing the services that we have in regards to manpower.
“Whether we have 10 cases or a 1,000 cases…whatever you see, regard that person as a potential carrier of COVID,” he said.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has put health care and frontline staff top of mind for many, the tense relationship right now between the Alberta Government and the province’s doctors bubbles underneath the surface.
Late last week, ten Lac La Biche physicians signed their resignation from hospital duties: a message heard just a month ago in Bonnyville from several physicians at a rural health care town hall that the UCP strongarming negotiations was “the final straw.”
Many of the province’s changes came into effect on April 1, but the Alberta Medical Association has since sued the government citing bad faith in their negotiations.
Dr. Stander said he isn’t sure what’s going to happen to Cold Lake’s health care delivery.
“I know Cold Lake is going to be troubled,” he said.
“We’re losing two docs, one leaving end of May, another end of July…and another doc has indicated that she will consider leaving at the end of this year. All of them to different provinces. We are very fortunate that we have Dr. Mckaskile that will be coming in June…although he’ll spend most of his time with anesthetic services.”
“The biggest concern was the government just ripping up the agreement and saying that’s it. We’re going to do what we tell you to do. The biggest change was the remuneration for the time we spent with patients. Some patients are very complex. We can’t deal with all of their medical problems in a 10-15 minute appointment and often we’d spend 35-40 minutes per patient.
“The government has decided no, we’re not going to pay that additional fee for a visit that extends beyond 15 minutes, they’ll only do it after 25 minutes. Physicians run a business and if you aren’t able to make ends than you’re going to change your services. That was our biggest concern that we wouldn’t be able to provide the service than we had in the past.”
‘Bottom line is stay at home’
Cold Lake North arena has been a site for Alberta Health Services over the last few weeks where potential COVID-19 carriers would get assessed for testing.
The walk-in clinics have amalgamated into a daily walk-in clinic from 8:00am-6:00pm where residents can call to book an appointment for other issues beyond novel coronavirus.
Dr. Joe Stander’s message to residents is the same as many of the nation’s top doctors: wash your hands.
“If you don’t get in contact with other people you won’t get the illness. The bottom line is stay at home. If you really, really need to go out, keep the six feet distance. That’s the best way of preventing COVID. The mask doesn’t protect you from other people, it protects other people from you.
“Washing your hands more often than you think is needed, keep your hands away from your face…especially when dealing with kids, we don’t always think about wiping your kid’s mouth, you should wash your hands before you do that too.”