February 28th, 2024

City council expresses urgency of Medicine Hat physician shortage

By KENDALL KING on September 28, 2022.

Medical clinics and offices across the city are being overwhelmed with individuals in need of care due to a shortage of doctors says city council, local health officials. NEWS PHOTO KENDALL KING

kking@medicinehatnews.com

City councillors are speaking out about a ‘dire need’ for doctors as concerns rise regarding local physician shortages and care access times.

In a statement released Monday, council members – including Mayor Linnsie Clark – expressed awareness of the situation and said they are working collaboratively with Alberta Health Services to attract and retain physicians.

Coun. Alison Van Dyke says the statement was not prompted by a specific event or issue.

“The City of Medicine Hat cannot be a service provider in health care, but we repeatedly get requests and questions from the community saying, ‘Why aren’t you doing something?’ and, ‘Are you actively helping in recruitment?’,” Van Dyke told the News. “Even though we don’t have a lot of power to recruit or to provide any services that way, we wanted to make sure people knew we were not unaware that there’s issues in our community in accessing primary care and specialist care as well. And that we are doing what we can from our side, as a municipality, to support AHS in their physician attraction and retention.”

Van Dyke says she and other council members are specifically focused on making Medicine Hat a community appealing to doctors through strategic planning and enhancement of existing amenities.

“It’s not necessarily just the practice that is going to attract a doctor,” Van Dyke said. “Often they’re bringing a partner and children and they are looking for a warm and welcoming community with amenities and services that’s going to meet the needs of that family. So that’s the piece that we can work on.”

Having previously served for 10 years as the chair of the Palliser Friends of Medicare, Van Dyke says the issue of physician shortages is not new.

“We were already pre-pandemic right on the cusp of just barely having enough doctors (and) I think COVID has exacerbated the problem,” said Van Dyke. “There’s been a lot of burnout in health care workers and people leaving the province for a variety of reasons … And so now, as soon as you have even a couple of retirements or a few doctors moving for family reasons, it’s noticeable in a way that it might not be otherwise.”

Medicine Hat doctor and president of the Section of Emergency Medicine with the Alberta Medical Association, Paul Parks, is glad Van Dyke and other councillors are speaking on the issue – something he wishes more elected officials would make priority.

“Access block to primary care – specifically the growing number of patients who do not have a primary care physician, and the lack of access to routine preventive care – is a growing concern in our community,” Parks said. “Our community has lost a significant number of family physicians in the last couple months … and more and more patients are presenting to the ER identifying that they do not have a family physician and have nowhere else to seek care.

“Yes, this is a growing problem across the province, but it is becoming critical in smaller cities like our own … Losing current physicians, and not being able to recruit any new physicians will have long standing ramifications for our community for years to come.”

Parks says a lack of data being collected by health service providers is complicating the issue as “no one can even quantify how bad the current problem is.”

Drawing estimations from his own experience and understanding of Medicine Hat’s medical field, Parks estimates approximately 20-30 per cent of city residents are without a primary care physician.

Currently, seven doctors are listed under the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta’s Find a Physician webpage as ‘accepting new patients,’ however calls to the doctors listed revealed the information out of date, meaning none of those doctors are accepting new patients.

PPCN’s Find a Doctor webpage lists no doctors in the Hat as accepting new patients.

While researching this article, the News did discover at least one local doctor (a pediatrician) accepting new patients, but by family doctor referral only.

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