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Pincher Creek doctor calls out AHS, Alberta health minister for misinformation, lack of support

Click to play video: 'Rural Alberta doctors say health minister’s announcements not enough' Rural Alberta doctors say health minister’s announcements not enough
WATCH ABOVE (April 24): After hearing from rural constituents, MLAs and doctors, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced changes to how rural physicians would be compensated for their work. But according to Alberta's doctors, it's not the cure-all for the province's health care system. Adam Toy reports – Apr 24, 2020

A dispute between a group of doctors in Pincher Creek, Alta., and the provincial government has led to one physician posting a public response alleging that misinformation is being spread by officials.

In April, some doctors from Pincher Creek announced they were withdrawing hospital services due to changes the government made to the way doctors can bill. Although the government did roll back some of the changes, nine physicians at The Associate Clinic, which is attached to the Pincher Creek Health Centre, maintained they were withdrawing due to the lack of stability from the government.

Read more: Doctors at Pincher Creek Health Centre withdraw from hospital duties

The physicians said at the time that they were giving 90-day notice before they left the hospital. However, last week, they decided to stay for another 90 days after being asked to by Pincher Creek Mayor Don Anderburg.

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“This issue potentially will have a huge impact on the safety and well-being of our citizens,” Anderburg said in a Facebook live video on July 30. “The actions taken by the minister to date [have] put our council in a position to not even have an option to talk about mitigation strategies.”

Health Minister Tyler Shandro tweeted that same day, applauding AHS and the doctors who agreed to stay on for the solution.

Alberta Health Services said in a news release at the time that physicians had previously said they were not available for August shifts due to vacation, not a withdrawal notice, and that AHS had been working to cover with temporary (locum) physicians.

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Read more: Alberta health minister announces changes to rural health-care funding

In a Twitter video Sunday night, Pincher Creek doctor Samantha Myhr said she believes some information being released by officials is untrue.

“The information coming from your office and AHS around our plan of withdrawal services for August is blatantly false,” Myhr said in her video, which was addressed to Shandro and AHS. “So I made this video to correct a few key points.

“Firstly, Pincher Creek was not in need of locum coverage because of vacation,” she said.

“Our physicians announced three months ago that they would be withdrawing hospital services Aug. 1 as a direct result of the situation your actions have put us in.

“For the record, our schedule is set four months in advance, and we previously had August staff just as we always do under normal circumstances.”

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She added that she believes AHS has never worked to help cover the department before, despite the need for it.

“None of the physicians here can remember a time when AHS has ever provided a locum to cover our emergency department,” Myhr said. “They also have never produced locum support for our sole surgeon, who bears enormous responsibility of 24/7 call.

“Even more disturbing, when one of my colleagues was diagnosed with cancer, her request to AHS for help covering her call shifts went unanswered.”

In an email to Global News, Shandro’s press secretary Steve Buick said “AHS recruited locums and worked with local physicians to ensure they fulfilled their obligations under the medical staff bylaws.”

“Contingency plans were also considered to ensure continuous patient care,” he said in the email. “There were very few shifts left to be filled by AHS when the Pincher Creek physicians decided to alter their co-ordinated absences.

“No physician in Pincher Creek submitted notice to AHS of withdrawal from hospital privileges.”

Buick also said that physicians who give up their hospital privileges, or who he said “engage in job action,” require a leave of absence or decide to move to another community in Alberta to practise at a hospital there, “are all required to follow long-standing processes established under the medical staff bylaws to do so.

“Because the required documentation was never submitted, Alberta Health Services had no way of determining what the Pincher Creek physicians intended to do,” he wrote. “If physicians are going to be away on vacation, then recruitment of new physicians is not required and a locum may be brought in.

“If a physician is leaving permanently or no longer wishes to provide services in-hospital, then AHS must recruit new physicians.”

Buick said physicians in Pincher Creek are “paid a premium of 12.4 per cent on all services billed under the Rural/Remote/Northern Program.”

“Minister Shandro in April announced he was lifting the $60,000-a-year cap on the program, making it the most generous incentive of its kind in the country,” he wrote. “Physicians have a right to change their practices according to clear rules.

“It’s clear that there are people who want to play politics on this issue. We are not interested in doing so.”

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–With files from Global News’ Phil Heidenreich

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