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8 rural Alberta doctors resign from Sundre hospital, more to follow suit amid dispute with UCP: NDP

Eight doctors in the rural Alberta community of Sundre have resigned from their positions at the hospital, according to the NDP.
Eight doctors in the rural Alberta community of Sundre have resigned from their positions at the hospital, according to the NDP. Hugh Macknight / STRPA-The Canadian Press File

Eight doctors have resigned at the Sundre Hospital and Care Centre in response to the Alberta government’s termination of its master agreement with physicians in February, according to the Opposition NDP.

In a news release on Wednesday, Opposition Health Critic David Shepherd said the UCP government needs to immediately work with doctors to establish another contract through binding arbitration.

Read more: Rural Alberta clinic withdraws hospital services after physician pay changes during pandemic

“Tyler Shandro is a complete failure as health minister,” Shepherd said.

“When respected rural doctors talk about the provincial government as a threat in the same terms as a deadly pandemic, we can all see something has gone terribly wrong.”

The doctors announced plans in April to ” withdraw our emergency and hospital acute care services in the hospital” following changes to the physicians’ pay formula during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those changes were later reversed.

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At the same time, the physicians said they were also pulling their obstetrical care at the hospital right away.

Read more: Alberta doctors say budget figure a deep salary cut when fee changes kick in

In a Wednesday email, press secretary for the ministry of health Steve Buick said Shandro’s April statement regarding the resignations still stands.

“[T]here will be no reductions or cuts to the Sundre Hospital or to other health-care services that Sundre residents use and expect,” Shandro said in April. “If these physicians chose to voluntarily give up their privileges, we will immediately bring in replacement physicians to provide those services.

“The Government of Alberta will also begin exploring permanent solutions to augment and stabilize physician services in Sundre over the longer term.”

Recap of changes for Alberta’s rural doctors
Recap of changes for Alberta’s rural doctors

In an emailed statement on Wednesday, Alberta Health Services said it stands by any of its physicians advocating for themselves or their patients.

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“It is important physicians are able to share their concerns, just as it is important that AHS continues to meet the needs of the patients and families we all serve.” spokesperson Kerry Williamson said.

Read more: Kenney says changes coming to doctor pay in Alberta post COVID-19 pandemic

Williamson added there will be no gaps in coverage at Sundre Hospital as a result of the resignation of the doctors, adding that there are robust plans in place with the community and local physicians to ensure patients will get the care they need.

“The hospital is an important part of the community, and we value the care provided inside its walls,” Williamson said. “AHS will continue to ensure that Sundre has appropriate AHS programs and services to meet the needs of the community, now and in the future.”

Williamson added AHS is looking at using temporary doctors and hiring new ones where needed.

Shepherd called on Premier Jason Kenney to abolish Bill 21, which would allow the UCP government to terminate any future contracts between it and physicians in the province.

“But after three months of the premier watching his rural health-care crisis spread across the province, we must conclude that chasing doctors out of rural hospitals and clinics is the deliberate policy of Jason Kenney, as a prelude to closing their emergency departments and delivery rooms,” Shepherd said.

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The NDP said doctors have announced either planned resignations or clinic closures in the following rural areas:

  • Athabasca
  • Rocky Mountain House
  • Canmore
  • Cochrane
  • Okotoks
  • Peace River
  • Rimbey
  • Westlock
  • Three Hills
  • Bragg Creek
  • Drayton Valley
  • Cold Lake
  • Lacombe
  • Pincher Creek
  • Fort McMurray
  • Ponoka
  • Claresholm