St. Paul will be losing two doctors at the end of February confirmed Dr. Francis Adebayo, the Chief of Staff at the St. Therese Health Centre.
He said Dr. Vermeulen and Dr. Louw will both be relocating elsewhere in the province. Efforts to reach the pair for further details about the move were unsuccessful, but the formal resignations come three months after the threat was initially made in response to St. Paul’s general surgeon announcing a relocation.
Dr. Louw is a general practitioner with a specialization in anesthetics and particularly impacted by the loss of the surgeon. According to a sign posted at the Independent Medical Practitioners clinic, Dr. Vermeulen’s clinic will be permanently closed as of Feb. 26.
“The hospital remains open and we are not in short supply of staff at this point,” said Adebayo.
“We are getting help from Alberta Health Services, which is locum emergency room doctors and GP anesthetists, so for both anesthesia and emergency room coverage we are getting support from AHS,” said Adebayo.
Locums are doctors who live and work elsewhere in the province and come to communities like St. Paul on a temporary or part-time basis to provide care when the local medical community lacks the ability to cover all necessary shifts.
Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul MLA Dave Hanson said it’s unfortunate that despite finding a new surgeon for St. Paul as quickly as they did following Dr. Ahmad’s decision to move to Cold Lake, some doctors are still choosing to leave.
“Maureen [Miller] and I, we’re doing our best to put some pressure on AHS to rectify the situation and I just wish that the doctors we do have would stay and work with us,” said Hanson.
Mayor Maureen Miller had not yet been officially informed by AHS when Lakeland Connect reached out and could not give a statement, but she has played a very active role in recruiting physicians to St. Paul, doing virtual tours and interviews with prospective candidates.
According to Adebayo and Hanson, the recruitment process for doctors in St. Paul is still ongoing.
“We have several interviews and we have a couple of people who are willing to relocate to St. Paul as well sometime next year,” said Adebayo.
Last month, AHS announced a general surgeon and a family physician will be coming to St. Paul in 2021. The surgeon is expected to arrive in February and the family doctor is expected in April.
“If we gain six and lose six, then we’re no further ahead. So it’s a matter of finding a balance. And I really feel that it’s going to be a long term plan that’s going to get us there,” said Hanson.
Asked if he had any ideas for a long term plan that could resolve the perennial issue of doctor recruitment and retention in northern Alberta, Hanson said he’d like to see more rural students go into the medical field and come back to their communities with the training.
“The interview process at the universities, they’re more geared for students who live in a bigger center that have access to certain things. And it makes it harder for rural students to qualify. So what we need to do is dedicate some spots at U of C and U of A, specifically for rural students,” said Hanson.
Asked to clarify what about the interview process is biased to students from cities, he said one of the criteria is how many volunteer hours you put in at a health care or research facility.
“And, you know, if you’re a kid that lives 10 miles out of town in St. Paul or Bonnyville, how do you fulfill that?”
Hanson said he doesn’t expect the change to happen overnight, but he is working with the Minister of Advanced Education and the Minister of Health to resolve the issue.
“If you have a kid that grew up in St. Paul, that has family out here and their roots are out here, the chances of them coming back like my son did in Bonnyville…They’re more apt to come back and stay and I think that’s the long term way to remedy the situation.”
Lakeland Connect did reach out to AHS for a comment, but did not receive a response before deadline. This article will be updated if further information becomes available.