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Drayton Valley clinic says it’s losing 2 family doctors ‘due to current health-care cuts’

Drayton Valley feels impact as Alberta changes how doctors get paid
WATCH ABOVE: Changes to how Alberta doctors get paid have left a hold in a Drayton Valley medical clinic. Fletcher Kent explains.

A family medical practice in Drayton Valley said it recently lost two physicians that had been recruited in light of what it describes as “health-care cuts” in Alberta.

READ MORE: Over 120 emergency room doctors send urgent letter to Alberta’s health minister

The Claro Family Practice posted a message on its Facebook page on March 1, writing it had to share “sad news.”

“Unfortunately, due to the current health-care cuts, the two physicians that were being recruited to cover Breton clinic and long-term care have decided to no longer take the positions,” the message reads.

“One physician who is currently in Ontario will not be coming to Alberta. The other who is practicing in Alberta will be moving to B.C.”

A Drayton Valley doctor said one physician specifically indicated he’s not moving because of the provincial changes, while the other cited “personal reasons.”

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“Doctors wanting to come to a rural area and establish a life here are now asking the question ‘Is this for me?'” said Dr. Joel Giddey, who works at the Drayton Valley clinic that was recruiting.

“Spending six months talking to them on the phone, meeting them here, wining and dining them and expecting them to show up and then to hear them citing reasons of uncertainty for them to not, it’s like a sucker punch to the stomach.

“It’s just hugely disappointing.”

Giddey is now worried about patients not receiving health services in the months to come.

Watch below (Feb. 26): Demoralized and powerless – that’s how Alberta’s “Family Doctor of the Year” describes the sentiment of physicians as the province moves to make changes to health care. As Sarah Ryan explains, they’re worried patients will suffer.

Alberta’s family doctor of the year says physicians feeling demoralized
Alberta’s family doctor of the year says physicians feeling demoralized

“That’s massively concerning for us,” said Dr. Bryan Frobb, another Drayton Valley doctor concerned about physicians not coming to Alberta. “Generally, we’re going to have a really hard time recruiting and retaining physicians to Alberta, specifically rural Alberta.”

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There’s another issue at play, Frobb said.

“Trust between physicians and government. Essentially overnight that agreement with government was torn up and we have no idea what we’re dealing with.”

READ MORE: Alberta government ends master agreement with doctors; new rules coming April 1

Alberta Health Services wrote a response to the message, explaining it works with partners, practicing physicians, communities, and local physician retention groups to support physician recruitment.

“We share the Claro clinic’s disappointment that the two candidates decided not to accept offers to practice in Drayton Valley. Although AHS makes every effort to bring about successful recruitment, there are often circumstances beyond our control.

“As independent contractors, physicians make their practice decisions on various factors not limited to practice locations or practice types. AHS will continue to work with the community of Drayton Valley and Breton, the clinics, and the physicians to continue on the recruitment process to support health services.”

Watch below (Feb. 27): Dr. Cathryn Zapf said the Alberta government’s recent announcement outlining changes to how doctors get paid is forcing her to close her office in Canmore. As Michael King reports, the government insists the changes won’t impact patient care. 

Canmore doctor closing practice due to changes in physician fees
Canmore doctor closing practice due to changes in physician fees

In February, following failed contract talks with doctors, the province ended its long-standing master agreement with them and put new rules in place effective April 1.

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Changes include new fee rules on extended patient visits that doctors have already said will devastate the bottom line for some family and rural practices.

The premier was asked about Drayton Valley’s situation during a news conference on Monday.

“The budget last week underscored that we are maintaining the budget for physician compensation at $5.4 billion, which is a record high,” Jason Kenney said. “That has grown by 200 per cent in the past 18 years.”

READ MORE: New imposed pay plan a good deal for Alberta doctors: Premier Jason Kenney

Kenney stressed the UCP is not proposing a cut to physician compensation; but a freeze.

“We implore the Alberta Medical Association and the good folks that it represents to work with us on a sensible compensation plan that allows us to live within the budget with no cuts, but allowing some greater degree of government control over the billables.”

The province said physician compensation makes up a quarter of the health care budget. Kenney also said the MacKinnon panel and the Ernst and Young review of AHS found Alberta physicians are the “most generously compensated in Canada, by a country mile.”

“We value our doctors enormously… and we want them to stay in Alberta, to come to Alberta, to provide world-class health care for our citizens,” the premier said.

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“According to the Canadian Institutes for Health Information, an average family physician, general practitioner… their total gross billings are about $96,000 more than their counterparts in Ontario. I’ve heard some say, ‘Well, that’s because Alberta has a higher cost of living.’ That’s not true. As the MacKinnon panel reported, based on Statistics Canada data, Ontario and British Columbia have a higher cost of living.

READ MORE: Alberta Health Services review aimed at finding savings, improving performance

“So our physicians are the best compensated in the country, they enjoy lower taxes than their counterparts in every other province, and a lower cost of living than the other major provinces.

“So I can’t imagine why somebody, on a freeze scenario, would decide they’re going to be better off financially by moving to a jurisdiction which compensates them less, taxes them more and has a higher cost of living.”

READ MORE: Highlights from Alberta budget 2020

“I think there’s been, quite frankly, a fair bit of misinformation spread in this debate,” Kenney said. “Some primary care physicians apparently believe that this implies a 30 per cent reduction in their compensation. How could that be possible when there’s a zero per cent reduction in the overall budget for physician compensation?”

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Watch below (Feb. 21): Alberta’s health minister says ending an agreement between the province and its physicians is the right move but some doctors say it could devastate their bottom line, especially in rural Alberta. Nicole Stillger reports.

Some rural doctors concerned about changes being made by Alberta government
Some rural doctors concerned about changes being made by Alberta government

Kenney said the government hopes to see more physicians paid through the Alternative Relationship Plans (ARP) model.

“Which basically means on a per-patient basis, rather than a fee-for-service basis,” the premier said. “In many cases, this means that physicians who move to an ARP will be compensated more but in that context, the government will be able to control future costs because we have a $8-billion deficit we just cannot continue to borrow that money forever.”

READ MORE: Alberta doctors getting ready for court fight against new pay, benefits deal

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The AMA, meanwhile, is weighing its legal options after the government terminated its agreement.

“Government has purposely created an environment where their decisions and actions have so many implications and unintended consequences that no matter where you look, there is chaos,” AMA President Christine Molnar wrote in her letter to members on March 2.

In addition to completing a legal analysis to bring to the board for decision, AMA has also ramped up efforts on social media.

The association is urging members to push the government back to the bargaining table and negotiate an agreement. It’s also asking members to contact their MLAs and the health minister.

“While these are very uncertain times for physicians, we have remained focused on facts and on patients,” Molnar wrote.