The Town of Elk Point hopes to have two new physicians in place in the community by the end of summer or the beginning of fall according to CAO Ken Gwozdz.
Alberta Health Services is currently searching for physicians to fill three vacancies in Elk Point, following the departure of two doctors at the beginning of the year and successful lobbying by the town and surrounding communities for a fourth physician.
According to Gwozdz, that fourth position would not exist were it not for the sustained efforts and support of the indigenous communities surrounding Elk Point including Kehewin, Frog Lake, Onion Lake, Saddle Lake, and Fishing Lake.
A male and a female physician are both coming to tour Elk Point and meet with doctors in the community on Mar. 26.
Hopes are high the site visit will go well and all involved will be able to continue in the process of bringing these two doctors home to Elk Point, according to mayor Lorne Young.
“I can’t get into the specifics for any one particular doctor right now, but we do have two doctors that are very interested to the point where they’re wanting to do a site visit and that’s very encouraging,” said Young.
Asked about the doctor recruitment incentive program, Young said the Town of Elk Point is “proceeding down that line.” As part of the incentive program, the Town backs an interest-free loan to help doctors establish their business in the community. There is also some funding to support their move to Elk Point.
At the County of St. Paul Public Works meeting Mar. 23, County of St. Paul Council passed a motion supporting a $7,500 stipend for each of the doctors “providing the doctors accept the position, and the cheques are payable to the doctors,” as stipulated by Div. 1 Coun. Darrell Younghans.
The motion was amended to include a three-year contract, which would require the stipend to be repaid if the doctor who received it did not stay a full three years in Elk Point.
The County of St. Paul had initially budgeted $5,000 for the recruitment of medical professionals to Elk Point in 2021, that amount was increased to $16,500 at the Public Works meeting. In previous years, recruitment for Elk Point has been budgeted at $5,000 but at the meeting County of St. Paul Interim CAO Tim Mahdiuk said he couldn’t remember spending any money on doctor recruitment in Elk Point previously.
The County also budgeted $15,000 for doctor recruitment in the Town of St. Paul in 2021, an increase from the $10,000 budgeted in 2020.
“In tight budget times I hate to see it go beyond anything budgeted, but when it comes to the difference between keeping a doctor or not I’m quite torn,” said Younghans.
Div. 2 Coun. Kevin Wirsta said he felt it was important to support both doctors since normally the money isn’t spent every single year.
A second motion by Wirsta to support 50 per cent of the costs of a welcome barbecue for the physicians in Elk Point to a maximum of $1,500 was also carried.
According to Gwozdz, the town is continuing to work with Alberta Health Services, the County of St. Paul, and the surrounding indigenous communities to secure doctors for the area.
“They’re absolutely critical to a sustainable community,” said Gwozdz.
He said the process of recruiting new doctors is a long one which can take over a year from start to finish and has involvement from other doctors in the community, as well as AHS and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta.
“It’s quite an involved process and the public needs to understand that they need to allow for the time to take place to have that assessment done properly,” said Gwozdz, noting the assessment alone can take months to complete the deep background checks necessary for public safety, competency exams, and necessary training which takes place elsewhere.
“The province ensures they do their due diligence and that physician is qualified to practice in Alberta. That bar is set very high because we all want to ensure that physician is going to succeed,” said Gwozdz.