Residents of Sylvan Lake and communities in the surrounding area received a thorough update on the future of urgent care in the region. At a June 15 meet and greet hosted at Meadowlands Golf Club, the Sylvan Lake Urgent Care Committee informed the public the AACS will be opening in May 2018. The committee also provided numerous details on what progress has been made in establishing an AACS in Sylvan Lake, answering a gauntlet of questions from a room full of curious guests.
Sylvan Lake Doctor Brad Bahler provided answers to guests’ questions, which included one from Sylvan Lake Town Councillor Megan Hanson. Hanson asked what sort of processes would be implemented to ensure people would visit the AACS for the right reasons. Bahler said the process to determine who should and shouldn’t be seeking service from the AACS will be derived from an operational model, currently in the planning stage.
Bahler said an operational model to deal with those kinds of issues is being put together by working groups – which include Alberta Health Services [AHS], the local primary care network and local health care providers. Bahler added there is potential for liaison work with local clinics so people seeking services at the AACS, when they should be going elsewhere, could be set in the right direction to find the services they need.
When asked about staffing, Bahler said the plan is to have a physician onsite for 16 hour shifts, seven days a week. He said a priority to have a registered nurse there, along with a licensed practical nurse and a triage clerk. That would serve as a starting point to staff negotiations with AHS, he noted. Bahler noted that staffing needs will be determined by taking into account how busy the AACS will be.
Bahler was asked to elaborate on the services being offered at the AACS, and said the main distinctions included longer hours of operation and more kinds of healthcare than the health services already locally available.
He elaborated, saying “if you fall anytime between Saturday at 2 p.m., and Monday morning at 8 [a.m.], we can’t do anything for you in town, so the expanded lab and x-ray capability is important.”
“If you’re dehydrated and needed some fluids, it’s difficult to do that right now,” continued Bahler. “If you’re a long term resident and needed some investigations done … we have the ability to do the investigations needed to get you started on treatment. [The AACS] is everything other than the top triage categories. We should be able to assess and hopefully manage those.”
One guest asked if there was any timeline for the setup of the AACS, referencing her concern of the effect its opening would have on local physiotherapy services, since those services would need to be relocated at some point in that process.
“[AHS] has a procurement process they go through anytime they rent space,” answered Bahler. “I know they are going through that process, and I understand they’re close to identifying a site for physio.”
One guest asked if the AACS is a completely new concept – a query to which Bahler responded by saying “there’s not a lot [of advanced ambulatory care facilities]. There are only a couple in the provinces and none in the Central Zone.”
Bahler said AHS has a couple of facilities that are similar to the one coming to Sylvan Lake. In many cases, he noted similar services are now provided in communities that may have traditionally had hospitals that migrated to somewhere smaller, because of those communities’ proximity to larger centres. He suggested other communities that didn’t need a full hospital have similar models to the AACS, “but it’s not a very common model.”
Bahler stressed there is “a lot of leeway for us to influence what the model looks like, and what the staffing will look like. The definitions are very broad and flexible.”
One guest asked if the presence of an ambulatory care faciltiy will lead scenarios in which people from outside the areas – such as summer residents, end up with two family doctors.
“Lots of people do, but my answer is no, you probably shouldn’t have two primary family doctors. We do need a mechanism for the summer residents who have a doctor elsewhere, and are here for a prolonged period of time,” said Bahler, adding such a mechanism is still in planning stages.
Teresa Rilling, a committee member and spokesperson went over what progress has been made in the establishment of an AACS, saying “we’ve been working for the past six years to secure enhanced medical services for Sylvan Lake and the area,” an area that includes Red Deer County; Lacombe County; the Town of Eckville and the five summer villages.
“The difference is that an AACS doesn’t have ambulance bays, nor will it be an ambulance dropoff point with patients, unless cleared by the doctors onsite,” said Rilling. “It’s important to note that this service is not a walk-in clinic. Residents should always see their doctor first for health concerns. This health service is for emergent accidents, and illnesses that require immediate attention. It is for residents, area residents and visitors who require immediate treatment.”
“Having a prescription filled or referral to a specialist or an ongoing of a monitoring of a stable condition are examples of things that should be seen with family doctor, and not at the ambulatory care centre,” she added.
Rilling also said “the combined area that would benefit from enhanced medical services is approximately 22,000 people. But that doesn’t include the 800,000 visitors we receive every year.”
The goal, Rilling stated, is to establish emergency medical services in Sylvan Lake with extended hours, offering medical treatment for non-life threatening injuries – provided by doctors and nurses with access to lab and x-rays.
She added that establishing an AACS would allow people to seek treatment for non-life threatening issues, and also alleviate wait times in emergency rooms. To date, the committee has raised $200,000 held in trust, for the purchase of medical equipment for the AACS. The anticipated cost of outfitting the facility will be up to $350,000. The Urgent Care Golf Committee has set a goal of raising $50,000 this year.
The committee will be continuing its fundraising efforts, which include the annual golf tournament on Aug. 11, and the Tim Horton’s Smile Cooke Campaign in September, and the Sylvan Lake Yuletide Festival in November. Rilling also stated a total of $24,000 has been raised from numerous sponsors.