Rural leaders worried about Alberta Health Services review recommendations

Click to play video: 'Changes proposed to Alberta’s rural health care'
Changes proposed to Alberta’s rural health care
WATCH: Alberta Health Services currently spends about $830 million per year on hospitals and other facilities to deliver healthcare in rural Alberta. A recent Ernst and Young review determined the government could find savings in that system. Tom Vernon has more in our Alberta Matters series – Feb 19, 2020

Some rural leaders say they are concerned about recommendations to consolidate services at small- and medium-sized hospitals in the recent EY review of Alberta Health Services.

The report found that out of the 83 such facilities, 77 emergency departments meet the criteria to be considered for reclassification or consolidation, and 36 acute sites are not viable in their current configuration.

READ MORE: Alberta government nixes AHS review recommendation to close 5 rural hospitals, Edmonton trauma centre

“What that looks like is what has us all concerned,” said Al Kemmere, a councillor in Mountain View County who also serves as the president of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta.

The report doesn’t identify any specific hospitals. While Health Minister Tyler Shandro has said no hospitals will be closed, there is the potential for changes like reduced hours in emergency departments, and the removal of some services like obstetrics.

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“I like to compare that to a three-legged stool, and as you start cutting off pieces of one leg, you throw an imbalance into the system,” Kemmere added.

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Some rural physicians are worried about the ethical implications of these potential changes as well.

Dr. Edward Aasman practises in rural Alberta. He says patients in need of critical care will still come to the hospital, even if an emergency department is operating on reduced hours.

“If you have a patient come when the emergency part of the hospital is closed, but the rest of the hospital is open, what is the actual responsibility of the staff there to provide care?” he said in an interview with Global News.

“Can we turn people away ethically? Medical legally? I think the answer is probably no.”

Aasman points out that rural Alberta accounts for a significant portion of the province’s overall economy, and the 830,000 residents outside of the major urban areas should expect to receive at least comparable services.

It will be up to AHS to develop an implementation plan on any potential service changes, and Shandro has said he expects rural physicians and leaders to be involved in those conversations.

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He says every dollar in savings found will go right back into front-line care.

READ MORE: Tense negotiations ahead as UCP searches for health-care system savings

“If we can do things more efficiently and be able to provide more care to patients, that’s our goal,” Shandro said.

AHS is due to report back to the Shandro by the middle of May.

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