Doctor shortage in southern Alberta: Part 2

MILK RIVER- Southern Alberta is experiencing a doctor shortage, and Alberta Health Services says they’ve been actively recruiting.

But some smaller communities are taking physician recruitment into their own hands, doing everything they can to draw in a family doctor.

In part two of our series, we sat down with community members in Milk River to talk about their struggle to find and keep a doctor.

Dr. Liesl Lewke-Bogle has been practicing medicine in Milk River for over 35 years.

She retired in 2005, but it didn’t last long.

“I came back to work in 2010, stayed on for a year and a half, 2011 came back to stay for two years which would have been June of 2013 and I’m still at it. We are still working on trying to recruit and get another physician,” adds Lewke-Bogle.

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It has been a burden for all residents and Alberta Health Services is working with the community to find a doctor, but says the problem needs more than a band aid solution.

“Part of what we are trying to do is not just find a warm body. We want the physician that wants a small rural community, who understands the needs and wants the challenge of the work and there are docs out there that want that and we just need to find the right match,” says Dr. Vanessa Maclean.

The shortage is throughout the south zone, this is list of all areas AHS is currently recruiting in.

Dr. Lewke Bogle feels Milk River lost some of its appeal to new physicians after health care regionalization in 2008, “You’d like to follow the patient through their care needed for the duration of the illness, but instead you have to transfer them elsewhere. In the current system it’s a fee for service; concern is always if we bring a new physician in will they earn enough to make an adequate living because we are rural and we are remote.”

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Milk River and the surrounding communities formed a physician recruitment committee about four years ago. Since then, they’ve been able to fundraise roughly $50 thousand dollars and all of that money will go towards finding a doctor for their area.

“We are on the same page as all the other communities out there doing the same thing. Because there is so many family doctors needed, so if we find one that is maybe interested in coming to Milk River, we do have some money set aside as an incentive to bring them here and hopefully they stay,” says committee member Shelly Fleming Butler.

She’s been a patient of Dr. Lewke-Bogle’s for 32 years. She was delivered at the Milk River hospital and has lived in the area for most of her life. She worries too much pressure is falling on Dr. Lewke-Bogle and wants to see her spend more time with her own family, not just patients.

“We need somebody here so she can retire and enjoy her grandchildren.We just really need a replacement, she’s not going to be here forever. We can’t keep expecting her to come out of retirement and be the only doctor,” adds Fleming Butler.

The money raised has also gone into hiring a recruiter, yet another step the community has taken on.

They’re also working on getting some acute care beds at the hospital to draw doctors in, and are hoping to drop the fee for service and offer a flat rate income to physicians.

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“You can maybe see a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel,” adds Fleming Butler.

“Do we have all the doctors we need, no. But we are actively working on that and actively working with all of our partners to make sure we attract physicians and really show them that this is a great place and our rural communities are great places to establish your practice,” adds Dr. Vanessa Maclean.

The Milk River clinic currently has 1,500 patients.

Dr. Lewke-Bogle does have help in her clinic one day a week from a doctor who travels from Cardston. They’ve also hired a physician’s assistant.

Alberta Health Services has provided a few links for those looking for a family doctor in the south zone – though they are limited.

You can view those here:

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