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Group of Alberta doctors resigning from serving hospital in Lac La Biche

Group of Alberta doctors resigning from serving hospital in Lac La Biche
WATCH ABOVE: Ten doctors in Lac La Biche have resigned from serving the local hospital effective at the end of July. The decision comes as a result of the recent funding changes made by the province. Nicole Stillger reports.

A group of 10 doctors northeast of Edmonton say they will soon no longer cover emergency room and obstetric services at the hospital that serves the Lac La Biche area.

“We regret to inform you that due to recent government funding changes to our Schedule of Medical Benefit Claim fees, we have been obliged to restructure our Medical Practice to cope with the loss of income,” reads the letter dated April 15 signed by 10 of 11 physicians who work at The Associated Medical Clinic.

“As a result we will not continue to support the William J. Cadzow Health Centre for ER and Obstetrical coverage after July 31, 2020.

“We are hereby officially resigning our hospital privileges effective July 31, 2020.”

The physicians could not immediately be reached for comment about the letter that was released to the media by the NDP Opposition on Thursday night.

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Mayor Omer Moghrabi of Lac La Biche County said the hospital serves a large area northeast of Edmonton that includes urban and rural communities, as well as First Nations and Metis settlements.

“It would be devastating,” Moghrabi said Friday. “Where would we have to travel?”

He said the government needs to get back to the bargaining table with the Alberta Medical Association before doctors start leaving the province.

Moghrabi said he doesn’t know of any other jurisdiction that’s fighting with its doctors in the middle of a pandemic.

Earlier this month, the Alberta Medical Association filed a lawsuit against the province over how the government pushed through changes in the way doctors can bill for their services.

The lawsuit seeks $5 million in general damages for what it says was a breach of physicians’ rights and freedoms, and another $250 million in monetary losses for doctors due to the alleged breach of contract.

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For weeks, doctors have said the changes would force hundreds of clinics across the province, particularly in rural areas, to reduce staff or close their doors.

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Steve Buick, Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s press secretary, said the government will move to ensure that people in the Lac La Biche area get the care that they need.

“If these physicians choose to voluntarily give up their privileges in a way that would reduce access to care, we will work with AHS (Alberta Health Services) to replace them and ensure access is maintained,” Buick said in an email.

“We will also begin exploring longer-term solutions to augment and stabilize physician services in Lac la Biche and any other community as required.”

Buick noted that the government is maintaining payments to physicians at $5.4 billion this year, the highest level ever.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Alberta adds new billing codes for doctors providing virtual care

Moghrabi said it’s easier said than done to recruit new doctors.

“It took just about 15 years to recruit a lot of these doctors … and we’re going to end up losing them.”

NDP health critic David Shepherd said the decision by the group of doctors will leave Lac La Biche with one family physician.

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“This is devastating news for the people of Lac La Biche,” Shepherd said in a release.

Shepherd noted that physicians in other rural communities including Stettler and Sundre have also said they plan to resign from serving their local hospital.