Susan Samson is pictured giving her presentation to Sylvan Lake town council.

Susan Samson is pictured giving her presentation to Sylvan Lake town council.

Bringing more doctors to Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake’s Advanced Ambulatory Care Service (AACS) has been experiencing closures recently, thanks to a lack of available doctors to cover shifts. Susan Samson, chair of the Sylvan Lake and Area Urgent Care Committee (UCC), wants to tackle this problem head on and, during Thursday’s council meeting, she requested the town’s help.

Samson brought a team with her to the council meeting, including committee volunteers, representatives from the AACS’s core partners and other citizens who wanted to show their support for the facility.

Samson made an impassioned speech to council about the state of healthcare in Sylvan Lake.

“AACS is a vital support service in our community and area and is the first and the only place providing healthcare for those families without doctors, for those injured visitors, for those seasonal residents, for those injured after hours and for those suffering from the unexpected,” Samson said. “The recent numerous and unscheduled closures of the AACS have created anger, angst and hardship with our citizens and area residents. Sickness, injuries and health concerns do not follow schedules and, to be effective, the AACS must be open seven days a week from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Anything less is unacceptable to us, our community and our partnering communities.”

Samson explained that the issue lies with the lack of available doctors to work at the facility.

“The AACS cannot be open and admit patients without a doctor on site to treat them. We currently do not have enough doctors working within our community to cover our medical needs, nor are there extra doctors in the surrounding areas to come in to work shifts at the AACS. This situation is not unique to Sylvan Lake. Canada is experiencing a healthcare crisis from coast to coast to coast.”

Samson suggested to council that the town form an official committee to attract and retain doctors to Sylvan Lake.

“The committee would be led by the town, and specifically Mayor Hanson. The UCC would take one seat and other seats would be available to Alberta Health Services (AHS), Wolf Creek Primary Care Network, local doctor clinics or their representative, fire, EMS, our surrounding community partners and there may be others. The monies raised from the 2022 Tim Hortons Smile Cookie Campaign will be available to this committee.”

Samson explained that the committee would serve several functions, including educating themselves on what needs to be done in the community, lobbying provincial government for effective changes in healthcare, working with AHS to find solutions regarding locums, practicums and retiring doctors, analyzing what other communities do to attract and retain doctors, hosting potential doctors and more.

“We already had a practice run when we jointly hosted Dr. Steele from South Africa,” Samson said of the committee hosting potential new doctors. “She has accepted the medical position offered by AHS and we can expect her in 2023.”

To end her speech, Samson asked for several items from Sylvan Lake town council: 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 AACS and to meet regularly and report back to the community with action steps and progress.

After Samson’s speech, council members didn’t have any additional questions regarding the items Samson asked for. However, council did decide to bring the motion forward to the next council meeting, so the town can draft an official report and include the necessary information.

“We know the reason we have this facility is because of the hard work of this committee,” Sylvan Lake Mayor Megan Hanson told Samson and the audience.

The Tim Hortons Smile Cookie Campaign will be running Sept. 19 to 25 this year and all proceeds from the cookie sales will be spent on attracting doctors to the community.

In addition to the presentation from Samson, council also presented a letter the town received from AHS recently, signed by Dr. Michael Mulholland, the acting central zone medical director. The letter read, in part, “Your passion and advocacy for care in the community is appreciated. What really touched me during our conversation was the hospitality that you showed to Dr. Steele during her visit, taking her to a Gulls game and showcasing the great things Sylvan Lake has to offer. I feel this is going to be the way forward for recruitment of new physicians to the community and knowing that council and other partners, like the Urgent Care Committee, are so willing to help is encouraging. We have opened a further three positions for physicians to apply to and I think that the partnership with the community will be integral in attracting and closing the deal on new doctors.”

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