The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA) Regional Tour stopped in Lac La Biche and St Paul on March 1. The tour “focuses on building relationships with physicians, understanding the patient’s perspective and outlining the College’s role in the healthcare system.”
At the St. Paul meeting, approximately 40 members of the medical community and interested residents gathered to express frustration with local health services. Issues raised included long wait times, a crowded emergency area, difficulty getting referrals to specialists, lack of a dedicated IV centre, and regulations around new doctor recruitment.
Members of the public noted that they can go to health centres in nearby communities for immediate referrals or tests, but these conveniences are frequently unavailable in St. Paul. They commented that people who don’t have serious conditions are taking up seats in St Therese hospital’s waiting room, while those with timely needs, like IV treatments, are delayed by up to four hours. They added that it can take up to four weeks to get in to see a doctor for non-emergency visits. Young doctors and nurses are preferring to set up practice in urban areas, resulting in difficulty recruiting and long hours for current staff.
However, the main problem identified was breakdown in communication.
Mike Caffaro, complaints director at CPSA, said that Health Advisory Councils, or HACs, local AHS leadership, local physician leadership, and the mayor and councillors can help to bridge the gap between what people expect and the services they get.
In response, Paul Boisvert, former longtime advocate for healthcare in St. Paul said, “Since 1992 we’ve been trying that. HAC – What a farce that worked out to be, because when HAC really was getting into the meat of the problems in the community, what did Alberta Health Services do? They fired the whole bloody works and appointed people; people who we couldn’t contact. They wouldn’t even give their phone numbers. And that’s the basic problem. There’s no communication.”
Steve Buick, CPSA government relations liaison, implied that the past can’t be changed, but, “Start from the frustrations you’ve had and talk about what you could do next. A bunch of people of goodwill bothered to come here, so who might be a contributor to have this discussion and move you forward?”
Mayor of St. Paul, Glenn Andersen accepted the challenge. “We do have a doctor committee set up. We have hospital representation there, we have doctors there, and people who run these facilities are at these meetings. So if that’s the piece that’s missing, we can definitely bridge that gap.” Andersen expressed concern that the current HAC members and operations are unknown to him. He said that the HAC held a meeting in the St. Paul hospital, and the hospital administrator was not aware that the committee was even there.
Notwithstanding previous concerns, Andersen immediately sent a text to the Northern Director of Alberta Health Services. He plans to gather with local doctors and, once all the information is collected, hold a Town Meeting to create a board. Said Andersen, “The concern is loud and clear. The text was sent out, and I’ll follow up.”