Susan Samson, Mayor Megan Hanson and councillor Teresa Rilling are beginning the process to improve healthcare in Sylvan Lake. (Photo by Michaela Ludwig)

Susan Samson, Mayor Megan Hanson and councillor Teresa Rilling are beginning the process to improve healthcare in Sylvan Lake. (Photo by Michaela Ludwig)

Advocates working to improve healthcare in Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lakers need better access to appropriate healthcare and the new recruitment committee is taking this task to heart.

During the Thursday, Aug. 25 town council meeting, Susan Samson, chair of the Sylvan Lake and Area Urgent Care Committee (UCC), made a presentation and asked the town for several items: identify doctor attraction and retention as a strategic priority, to form a Doctor Attraction and Retention Committee with the elected representation, to provide administrative support to the Doctor Attraction and Retention Committee, to seek and engage committee members who represent organizations and neighbouring communities who are impacted by closures at the Sylvan Lake Advanced Ambulatory Care Service (AACS) and to meet regularly and report back to the community with action steps and progress.

A motion was going to be brought back to the next council meeting on Sept. 12; however, plans are still in the works to figure out what this committee will look like. Samson has taken the reins.

“I’m starting from scratch,” Samson said of navigating the waters to learn how to form a committee. “There’s a learning curve, but it’s nothing I can’t handle. So we’re going to get to work on this.”

Samson has been studying town documents when it comes to the rules and regulations for forming a committee and she’s hoping to gather more people around the table. In addition to Samson, Sylvan Lake Mayor Megan Hanson and councillor Teresa Rilling will also be part of the group.

“Councillor Rilling is on the UCC, so she is certainly the expert on our council when it comes to this,” said Hanson. “And I have the access. All of council would love to be on this committee, but for efficient business, the two of us were designated.”

Samson has been tasked with approaching the three medical clinics in Sylvan Lake and asking them for a resource person.

“So when we’re talking about things like, ‘Can we have a nurse practitioner?’ someone can give us answers,” she explained. “We aren’t in the medical profession, so we don’t always know how these things work.”

Samson also wants to discuss the reasons around this doctor shortage and why the town can’t draw doctors from other areas.

“Is there that big of a shortage? I don’t know,” she said. “So we’re going to find people who can answer those questions. We’re asking them to be the right person we can count on to provide information.”

Going forward, members of Sylvan Lake’s town council will be attending the Alberta Municipalities conference, which runs Sept. 21 to 23.

“This is a space where we can advocate for our needs in terms of the AACS,” said Hanson, adding that there’s great access to ministers at this conference and the councillors have a meeting with Minister Copping, the minister of health, on the Friday.

Town council also recently penned a letter of support for Dr. Steele, who is scheduled to start in Sylvan Lake as a new physician. This letter is to help secure a visa for her and her spouse to come to Canada.

Samson will be attending the Rural Health Professionals Action Plan convention in October and she’s ready to make some connections and learn all she can.

“The whole convention is on doctor attraction and recruitment, so I expect to network with people that can assist us,” she explained. “I’ll also meet other communities who are trying to do the same thing we’re doing and find out what’s worked and not worked and maybe we can pick up some pointers that way.”

While advocacy and encouraging Alberta Health Services (AHS) to make the right decisions is a major component for the committee and its plan, the town will not be paying wages or incentivizing medical staff to come to Sylvan Lake.

“We hold that medical needs are not a municipal responsibility,” said Hanson. “We need to be pushing AHS.”

The idea of asking for a nurse practitioner, rather than pushing for a physician, is also on the table for the committee.

“For me, it’s refreshing,” Samson said of the new committee. “The UCC made some huge milestones. It’s moved on and become a fundraising group. This is an interesting challenge that dovetails from what I did with UCC and I’m excited about the possibilities out there.”

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