Healthy Communities Initiative Cup – The Sylvan Lake and Area Urgent Care Committee was awarded the Healthy Communities Initiative Cup at the Volunteer Gala and Awards Evening Saturday at the Sylvan Lake Community Centre. In this photo: Susan Samson

Sylvan Lake citizens denied access to urgent care funding

No money in provincial budget for failing rural health systems

The 22,000 residents of Sylvan Lake and area, along with the over 750,000 tourists the Town sees annually have once again been denied access to a urgent care following the release of the 2016 Alberta Budget.

The Sylvan Lake and Area Urgent Care Committee have been lobbying for a facility that would allow doctors to treat patients after hours since 2011. The previous Progressive Conservative government approved the project only to have the funding cut once the NDP took power following the recent election.

Two other municipalities were also battling for 24-hour urgent care facilities, with Airdrie, a Wildrose run constituency and Beaverlodge, a Progressive Conservative constituency, being denied funding alongside Sylvan Lake.

Currently patients in Sylvan Lake see their family doctor during regular clinic hours with an after-hours service being provided in closed clinics by a local group of doctors.

However, as of June 1, local physicians will no longer be offering this service due to concerns of both patient and physician safety. The local doctors involved with the group will no longer be taking new patients but will continue to provide after-hours phone service to their existing patients.

Susan Samson, Urgent Care Committee chair, explains the lack of funding for urgent care in the community will mean extra time spent in Red Deer Regional Hospital’s (RDRH) Emergency Room for many residents of Sylvan Lake and area.

Samson added because many of the visits residents make to RDRH are non life threatening they end up waiting for hours to see a doctor and adding additional stress to the hospital often times with a very unhappy child in the middle of the night.

“We’ve known the on call service was struggling and now it comes at the same time our funding was shut out so it’s a bit disappointing. With no on-call after hours, no urgent care and not being able to see a doctor unless you were already a patient of theirs -what are people to do?” asked Samson. “This government does not recognize the crisis we are facing and we are not going to take it anymore.”

Following a meeting with Sarah Hoffman, Minister of Health, in December, Samson and the Committee were referred to Alberta Health Services Central Zone where they were told by vice president, Kerry Bales that were was no chance of funding for the project.

“Alberta Health Services suggests that what we have is adequate,” explained Samson. “Do you think it’s adequate for a senior or a small child to have to leave their home, leave their community in the dead of the night and go to Red Deer where they will sit in an emergency room all night when it could have been treated in their own town?”

“He made it very clear to us that there was no money and he indicated there had been no new net service investment in his entire duration of his time at AHS which means for 15 years there has been no investment in anything new in the area.”

The total provincial budget is listed at $51.1 billion, of which $20.4 billion went to health. Alberta Health Services receives the bulk of the funding at $14.3 billion, which includes a $175 million increase this year.

“We were looking for a very small amount of money in 2016 to finish planning,” said Samson. “All we were asking for was $200,000 to finish planning so we were ready to roll in 2017. 40% of the entire budget went to health and of that we got not a single cent, we’re talking about $20.4 billion that went to health and I find that deplorable.”

Don MacIntyre, Innsifail-Sylvan Lake MLA stated the lack of funding for urgent care in Sylvan Lake was ‘very tragic’.

“The urgent care consultants demonstrated that the operational costs of operating urgent care in Sylvan Lake was equal to or less than the cost of providing E.R. services in Red Deer at the hospital,” explained MacIntyre. “So the net cost to the government is zero right now. It astounds me that in a budget this large, the government couldn’t find $200,000 this year to help the 22,000 people in the area to have access to urgent care in the future. This is beyond ridiculous.”

Samson added she wished to stress the impact this decision will have not only on Sylvan Lake but also on neighbouring partners the Town of Eckville, the Town of Bentley, Red Deer and Lacombe Counties as well as the five summer villages.

On Wednesday, May 25th at 7p.m. there will be a public rally held at the Sylvan Lake Community Centre.

“We hope to pack the building and the parking lot to get the word out about what is happening and how it affects it,” said Samson. “We would like to start a major letter writing campaign and express to residents and the government that we want to see funding for planning in 2016 and funding for implementation in 2017 and that is the bottom line.”

“If we can gather the momentum and get people behind us then maybe there’s a chance they will reopen our case and have a better look. This isn’t the end of the urgent care conversation in Sylvan Lake.”

Mayor Sean McIntyre stated he has had a number of residents express frustration, fear, even anger with the lack of health care service in Sylvan Lake and area.

“Sylvan Lake the second largest population in Central Alberta and we are disproportionately underserved with respects to health care,” said Mayor McIntyre. “We have the statistics, the business plan and the people to support our cause. We will not rest until the health care needs of our area population are met.”

 

Below is a letter written by a local doctor’s group explaining changes to Sylvan Lake’s after hours services:

 

The physicians of the Sylvan Lake Family Health Centre, and Sylvan Medical Clinic regret to inform the citizens of Sylvan Lake and area about changes to the physician On Call Service effective June 1, 2016.

For decades, local doctors have offered 24/7/365 after-hours care to our community, at our closed clinics, with no support. Over time our population has rapidly grown at a rate of almost 5% a year, and this does not factor in population fluxes in the summer due to the tourism industry. We have worked earnestly with the Urgent Care Committee in Sylvan Lake for five years, trying to find a stable solution to this challenge.

In addition, our physician group was active in conversations about this issue for five additional years prior to the establishment of the committee. We have had many conversations with Alberta Health Services and Alberta Health in that time,seeking out any opportunity to solve this dilemma, and we have worked through several major evaluations, assessments, and proposals.

We regret to report that, in over a decade, none of this has led to an after-hours solution for Sylvan Lake and area. We know of no community in Alberta that has been asked to look after a population of 20,000, which approximately doubles in the summer, with absolutely no support from Alberta Health Services for lab, diagnostic imaging, nursing or support staff outside of limited business hours.

The current On Call Service is unsustainable. Although physician safety and burnout is an issue of concern, patient safety is by far and away the most significant and serious concern.

Given the ever increasing, complicating factors, the On Call Service, as the town has known it, will cease to exist June 1, 2016.

The physicians in Sylvan Lake will continue to provide phone coverage for our personal patients after hours, which is a duty of our profession; however, we will no longer return to see patients at closed clinics, and we are no longer able to look after patients in any capacity who are not directly attached to a physician at Sylvan Family Health Centre, Sylvan Medical Clinic, or the office of Dr. Stephen Fugler.

We know from our data that changes to our On Call Service will mean an additional 2,000-3,000 visits to emergency departments in the next year; this is in addition to the already 3,000 community members forced elsewhere as a result of lack of health care service and access locally.

We believe that Sylvan Lake has a progressive group of professional providers with amazing staff at our clinics, and fantastic professional staff provided by the Wolf Creek Primary Care Network. The situation is right for the development of an innovative solution to our community concerns, but we need our service delivery partners (AHS) and provincial funders (Alberta Health) to prioritize this issue for any action to occur.

We will continue to work with the Urgent Care Committee, and our Zonal Leadership to identify a long-term and sustainable solution to a problem that most certainly will continue to grow, and we deeply apologize for the inconvenience that these changes will no doubt cause.

Sincerely,

Physicians of Sylvan Family Health Centre & Sylvan Medical Clinic

 

 

Join the letter writing campaign by emailing and/or mailing any or all of the below addresses:

Honourable Sarah Hoffman

Minister of Health

Office of the Minister

423 Legislature Building

10800 97 Avenue

Edmonton, AB

T5K 2B6

Phone: 780 427 3665

Fax: 780 415 0961

Email: health.minister@gov.ab.ca

 

Mr. Carl Amrhein

Deputy Minister

Office of the Deputy Minister

22nd Floor ATB Place

10025 Jasper Avenue

Edmonton, AB

T5J 1S6

Phone: 780 422 0747

Fax: 780 427 1016

Email: carl.amrhein@gov.ab.ca

 

Mr. Scott Harris

Chief of Staff

Office of the Minister

423 Legislature Building

10800 97 Avenue

Edmonton, AB

T5K 2B6

Phone: 780 427 3665

Fax: 780 415 0961

Email: scott.f.harris@gov.ab.ca

 

Mr. Kerry Bales

Chief Zone Officer Central Zone

43 Michener Bend

Red Deer, AB

T4P 0H6

Email: kerry.bales@ahs.ca

 

 

Dr. Evan Lundall

Chief Medical Officer Central Zone

43 Michener Bend

Red Deer, AB

T4P 0H6

Email: evan.lundall@ahs.ca

 

 

Ms. Linda Hughes

Board Chair

Alberta Health Services

Seventh Street Plaza

14th Floor North Tower

10030 107 Street NW

Edmonton, AB

T5J 3E4

Email: linda.hughes@ahs.ca

 

 

Dr. Verna Yiu

President & CEO

Alberta Health Services

Seventh Street Plaza

14th Floor North Tower

10030 107 Street NW

Edmonton, AB

T5J 3E4

Email: ahs.corp@ahs.ca

 

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