Alberta Health Services is currently recruiting two physicians for Elk Point according to a letter from North Zone representatives.
Medical Director Robert Kielly and Senior Operating Officer Cindy Harmata said the doctors are needed to replace Dr. Ramful, who is retiring, and Dr. Oyebode, who is leaving the community for Calgary.
Both doctors will be leaving Elk Point at the end of December, leaving just one physician in the community.
“To help ensure local care needs are met during this time, AHS has the ability to bring in locum (temporary) physicians and also to bring in physicians from other communities to ensure coverage at our site,” reads the letter.
The statement was in response to an ongoing letter-writing campaign led by Elk Point and supported by a number of other communities and First Nations in the region.
The letters, addressed to AHS, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, and Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul MLA David Hanson requested the workforce plan for the Elk Point Hospital to be shared with community leaders, and for a fourth physician to be added to the community.
“At this time, AHS Medical Affairs has identified the need for three full-time family physicians to provide care in the community. As a community’s needs are always changing, AHS reviews local care needs to ensure they are continuing to be met, and we will continue to monitor local care needs on an ongoing basis. Should things change, we will work with local stakeholders and partners in care,” reads the response from AHS.
“There are no changes planned to local healthcare services, and we will work to ensure residents continue to have access to the care they need.”
Elk Point Mayor Lorne Young said the response from AHS is encouraging because it shows they do intend to fill the positions and have a plan to help the community through the transition while the new doctors are recruited.
“What I find quite encouraging is the statement where they say that there are no changes planned to the local health care services, and we will work to ensure residents continue to have access to the care that they need,” said Young.
He said he still has concerns, notably the workforce plan for the hospital which the town still has not received.
“We don’t want to see a shortage of doctors in Elk Point as a reason that AHS might consider changing the scope of services available at Elk Point. We absolutely do not want to see that,” said Young.
The other thing which he found discouraging was reviewing the website where doctor jobs in Alberta are posted.
There are 235 physician positions open in Alberta as of Nov. 3, including 68 for General/Family Practitioners, of which 28 are in the North Zone and eight are positions elsewhere in the Lakeland. A total of 19 doctor jobs are posted in Bonnyville, Cold Lake, St. Paul, Elk Point, and Two Hills.
“We’re looking for that doctor that will come in, set up a practice which is essentially a business, and commit to the community. That’s what we’re really looking for,” said Young.
Elk Point is part of the Rural Health Professionals Action Plan, which works to attract and retain health care workers in rural communities across Alberta.
While Young couldn’t give a firm commitment until such time as a doctor wants to set up shop in Elk Point and the decision comes to council, he noted that in the past the town has been able to provide interest-free loans to help a doctor establish their practice.
“And then the other thing that’s a bit of an attraction to Elk Point is the fact that both of our doctors currently have clinics set up in AHS facilities. And we’re hoping that can continue because I think that provides a level of security and cost-effectiveness that would be hard to match,” said Young.
Young said they do have a meeting set up with MLA David Hanson, and they still hope to speak to Health Minister Tyler Shandro about the issue.
“We all recognize that that the Elk Point Health Care Center serves such a big area. And so we’re bringing all the partners together on this conversation,” said Young.