ST. PAUL - The reaction to Monday's LakelandTODAY.ca interview with three St. Paul doctors expressing a high level of frustration that exists within the St. Paul medical community, and the implications of the impending departure of a local surgeon has been fast and furious. Local politicians are starting to feel the heat from St. Paul and area residents who want some answers.
However, both MLA Dave Hanson and St. Paul Mayor Maureen Miller are pointing their fingers directly at Alberta Health Services and are taking the issue all the way to the Health Minister's office.
"For some time now there has been rumours flying that our only surgeon working at St. Therese was moving to Cold Lake. We now know that the rumours are true and Dr. Ahmad will transition over to Cold Lake over the coming months," Miller wrote in a prepared statement this afternoon. "Without a surgeon here, there is no reason for our other doctors who specialize in anesthesiology to stay in this community.
"The fallout from this decision by Alberta Health Services to not immediately start looking for another surgeon has caused the devastating impact of four of our doctors handing in their resignations within the last 72 hours."
"We want our residents to know that though we have had little or no cooperation or support from the Alberta Health Services North Zone officials, we will continue to do what we can to retain and support our doctors and to push for another surgeon. I want to make it clear that this is NOT a political decision, but rather one that has been generated and enforced by the local health region not the government or governing party.
"I’m afraid at this point I can’t share anymore, but as this issue unfolds and I can do so I will share with you as quickly as possible," the Mayor concluded.
Hanson told LakelandTODAY.ca that people should stop calling him and start calling top officials in AHS. He said the situation is a direct result of "AHS mismanagement" in the North Zone.
"If they are getting their direction from somebody above, we need to know that. I'm not going to sit back and take the hits for this anymore."
He said he and the UCP Party are getting blasted unfairly on social media and he's calling on the provincial health ministry, Alberta Health, to step in to address the fallout he believes is a direct result of decisions made at the AHS zone level, with little consideration given to the impact on rural health care.
"This issue has nothing to do with the Ministry of Health, the minister or me as the MLA. This is a blunder put on by the representatives for AHS in the area and they have to answer for it. I would encourage people to get ahold of Cindy Harmata (Senior Operating Director AHS North Zone), our regional rep, or Dr. (Albert) Harmse, he's in charge of doctors in the area, or Dr. (Joe) Stander in Cold Lake and get them to explain what this situation is about and how it transpired."
During a meeting last night in St. Paul involving high level AHS officials from the North Zone, two practicing anaesthetists, who are also general physicians in the community were taken to task for concerns that have been voiced over reduced OR surgical time.
Calls to AHS from LakelandTODAY.ca since our story published on Monday, have not been returned, including from the North Zone's communication department and Cindy Harmata. However, in an interview on Aug. 28 with Dr. Albert Harmse, North Zone Medical Director for AHS and a St. Paul physician, he said the community had nothing to fear from Dr. Iftikhar Ahmad's transfer to the Cold Lake Hospital.
"There is going to be very little impact for St. Paul. This biggest thing is maybe after hours, it will depend on where he is. If he's still in St. Paul when he's called for an emergency, he will deal with it from here. If he's in Cold Lake, then the case will be referred there, but it will have very little impact on what is going on at the moment."
At that time, Dr. Harmse maintained he was "not afraid for the surgical service in St. Paul," and denied there was any move to shut down surgical service at the St. Paul Health Centre. He dispelled any concerns over the possible impact to three other St. Paul doctors who, in addition to their general practices, also provide anaesthetic services for Dr. Ahmad’s surgeries at the local hospital.
He said there’s no reason to think they will see substantially fewer hours in the OR.
“No, the need for them basically remains the same … The after hours anaesthetic might be a little bit impacted in the amount of patients that they do. But we really don’t do that many after hour cases anyway, so it won’t have a big effect on them . . . St. Paul will still be a big focus of him. I don’t see that the workload will reduce to such an extent that it will warrant the anaesthetists to leave.”