Offering cash incentives to draw doctors to Sylvan Lake is not on the town council’s agenda — for now.
“We’re not there yet, but we’re going to have to keep having these conversations” as long as Sylvan Lake’s Ambulatory Care Centre keeps closing periodically due to lack of staffing, said Mayor Megan Hanson.
Shut-downs of a centre that provides urgent care for non-life threatening conditions are a concern to the whole community, stressed Hanson, who hears complaints from residents whenever the centre has to unexpectedly close for the day.
Sylvan Lake’s Ambulatory Care Centre shut its doors twice recently and has sporadically closed about half a dozen times since December, when replacement physicians cannot be found to replace a doctor who’s sick.
On Friday, May 13, the municipal council of Fort MacLeod announced a $10,000 incentive will be offered to any new doctors who come to practise in the southern Alberta community for at least five years.
Fort Macleod’s CAO, Anthony Burdett, told media this was an opportunity to set his town apart from others and to increase the attractiveness of moving to Fort Macleod, which now has only two practising physicians. Locums, or temporary doctors, are also rotated in to help fill the town’s health needs.
By comparison, Sylvan Lake has several medical clinics at which numerous doctors practise. The trouble is, these physicians can’t cancel scheduled appointments at their own clinics to work an unfilled shift at the Ambulatory Care Centre, as needed, said Hanson.
Alberta Health Services has been trying to recruit physicians for Sylvan Lake, Fort Macleod, and other communities — including Red Deer, which has a shortage of specialists.
An AHS spokesperson said recruiting doctors is difficult across North America, but is a particular challenge in areas outside of main urban centres.
AHS has a dedicated team that’s working on various recruitment strategies. The following solutions are underway: “Aggressively” pursuing both Canadian and internationally-trained physicians; reviewing retirement and succession plans with local medical leaders; working to support flexible roles and scope of practice within Alberta; exploring alternate models for care; and conducting exit interviews with physicians who are retiring or leaving Alberta to improve retention strategies.
The goal is “always to keep sites operating as normal, and to ensure that all patients receive safe care,” the AHS spokesperson said.
AHS did not respond to an emailed question about Fort Macleod’s cash incentive method of recruitment, but the spokesperson said welcoming municipal officials can play an important role when physician are deciding about where build their practice.
For instance, a doctor from another country is soon expected to tour Sylvan Lake before deciding whether to move to the town to practise. When the physician arrives, town officials will help show him around the community and provide information about what Sylvan Lake has to offer, added Hanson.
“We will tell him we appreciate the hard work that doctors are doing and thank him for (considering) our community.”