SUNDRE – Physicians at Sundre’s Moose and Squirrel Medical Clinic have announced further details of their service withdrawl from the town’s hospital.
Responding to what they say are unreasonable provincial government cuts, the eight doctors at Sundre’s Moose and Squirrel Medical Clinic announced on April 2 that in two weeks time they would be giving up obstetrical privileges at the Sundre hospital.
The doctors at the 4,000 patient clinic also said they planned to give 90 days notice to Alberta Health Services that they are withdrawing their privileges from the Sundre hospital acute care and emergency department.
The clinic’s physicians will continue to work in the local hospital until July 1 “when the COVID-19 pandemic surge is expected to have passed” the clinic’s latest update states.
The physicians say they will continue to provide patient care at the clinic, located on 1st Street N.W. in Sundre, as well as continue to provide care at Sundre Seniors’ Supportive Living Facility, and once they are able to again to conduct in-patient visits, resume travelling to Caroline for patient visits.
“Once we are no longer full time staff at the Sundre hospital, we will be introducing extended services through our clinic. We will be doing procedures in office that in the past may have occurred in the emergency room,” the latest clinic update reads.
The clinic’s physicians will also be available to patients after hours through weekday evening clinics and will offer on-call services to patients overnight and on weekends and statutory holidays.
The physician’s Facebook video conference conducted April 2, and came two days after the Kenney government went forward with major changes to physician compensation.
Those government changes include changes to administrative fees and benefit programs.
During the video several of the Moose and Squirrel’s physicians explained their rationale.
Dr. Michelle Warren said the Kenney government’s action have made the changes unavoidable.
“We are devastated that it has come to this, but this is the consequences of the government’s decisions and the government’s cuts and if we don’t react and change, we won’t be here at all,” said Warren.
Dr. Jena Smith said the UCP government has created a “terrible situation” that has left doctors with “very few options” going forward.
“Instead of working with us as the people who know the system best, the government has chosen to dictate which cuts will be made where and the effects these will have on your health care,” said Smith.
“Unfortunately Jason (Nixon) and the UCP government didn’t listen and no action was taken to stop these changes. They went forward and it is unconscionable that they did so when doctors in Alberta are in the midst of dealing with this pandemic.”
The changes have been “completely devastating to us,” she said.
“It is completely unbelievable to me that this is the time (during the COVID-19 pandemic) that the government chose to put these health-care cuts in place.”
Dr. Rob Warren said, “I don’t know whether Jason Nixon didn’t know what the cuts were going to be or whether he did know and lied to me.
“The actual cuts that came through were very, very heavily tilted towards rural medicine.
“The reality is that we weren’t able to figure out a way that we could adapt to these cuts and still provide the same comprehensive care we are used to. We just weren’t able to.”
Jason Nixon, Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre UCP MLA and Kenney cabinet minister, was not available for an interview at press time Monday. However, he did provide the Albertan with a statement.
“I’ve spoken to other physicians in the area and assured them that our government is committed to our quality publicly-funded health-care system,” said Nixon.
“Additionally, we will provide whatever resources are needed to ensure that rural Albertans, including those in Sundre, are cared for during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. “I will always fight for the communities I represent, particularly residents’ access to quality health care.”
In the statement Nixon commended front line health-care workers for “keeping Albertans safe through the COVID-19 pandemic.”
There has been a large public response to the announced changes at the clinic, with hundreds of comments posted on Facebook since Thursday.
In correspondence with the Albertan, Eagle Hill resident Peter Haase said he is upset with the government and area MLAs.
“I would like to call on our local MLAs Nathan Cooper (UCP MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills) and Jason Nixon to show some backbone and look out for the citizens that they represent and their needs, instead of towing the party line and bowing to the leader and a health minister who care more about the bottom line than the health of Albertans,” said Haase. “The health and wellbeing of the thousands of citizens they represent is paramount.”
Sundre-area resident Graham Overguard said he is concerned with the physicians’ actions.
“As a taxpayer and a past and future patient, I resent the fact these doctors are holding me and every other possible patient in this town hostage, simply to get their way,” said Overguard.
“Despite what they are saying that is exactly what they are doing. Each and every one of us has become a bargaining chip, to try to extend negotiations with the government.”
Health Minister Tyler Shandro reportedly said the province would take measures to ensure health-care service in Sundre.
“There will be no reductions or cuts to the Sundre hospital or to other health-care services that Sundre residents use and expect,” Shandro said.
“If these physicians chose to voluntarily give up their privileges, we will immediately bring in replacement physicians to provide those services.”
The opposition NDP says no one should be surprised with the Sundre physicians’ actions.
“Doctors have pleaded with him (Shandro) to just wait until the danger of this deadly pandemic has passed,” said David Shepherd, official Opposition health critic.
“He has pressed forward with his dangerous war on Alberta health care. Sundre isn’t the first rural community to lose healthcare services and it won’t be the last.”