Urgent care urgently needed
Up until last month, Brent Boychuk was an avid outdoorsman who enjoyed hunting, riding his quad, camping and fishing.
And like some men his age, the 49-year-old Sylvan Lake resident had a heart condition.
So when he felt some heat in his chest that fateful Saturday in August, Boychuk asked his daughter to take him to the local clinic.
When they arrived, they discovered that it was closed.
Then they drove to the office of Boychuk’s doctor. It was closed, too.
That’s where Boychuk collapsed. His daughter called 911 and performed CPR on him until the paramedics arrived. Calls to the doctor on-call for Sylvan Lake that day went unreturned. Boychuk never regained consciousness.
Every Albertan knows a tragic story about someone like Brent Boychuk: the boss, co-worker, neighbour, friend-of-the-family or close relative who died tragically because they were unable to access the health care that could have saved them or at least given them a fighting chance.
These stories have a way of highlighting gaps in the province’s health-care system, in this case, a tragic one in the Town of Sylvan Lake.
A community of 12,300, Sylvan Lake is a wildly popular tourist destination that is sorely lacking in access to urgent or emergency health care. Unlike Innisfail and Lacombe, which are about the same size as Sylvan Lake, the town has neither an urgent care centre nor a hospital and must share an ambulance with neighbouring communities.
The best hope of residents and visitors alike is to strike out for Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, about 20 minutes down the road. The province has pooled a lot of its resources at that facility. They weren’t enough to save Boychuk, though. He was dead by the time he got there.
Boychuk left behind a wife, four children, and a mother who loved him dearly. His widow, Annie Boychuk, believes her husband would have had a better chance of surviving if there was an urgent care centre or, better, a hospital, in Sylvan Lake. She has begun fundraising to bring better health-services to Sylvan Lake.
She is not alone. The Town of Sylvan Lake and surrounding communities have been lobbying the province for an urgent care centre because they believe it is the right model for the community. The town readily acknowledges that, in this time of tight budgets, the chance of Sylvan Lake landing a hospital is remote.
Would an urgent care centre have saved Boychuk? Perhaps. By definition, urgent care centres are meant to handle unexpected and urgent conditions, such as broken bones, sprains and cuts. The provincial government recommends that people with life-threatening conditions, such as heart attacks, should always go to their nearest emergency department or call 911. While the centre may not have been equipped to treat Boychuk, it may have been able to stabilize him in time for the paramedics to arrive. In short, it could have given him a fighting chance.
Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne acknowledged Boychuk’s tragic death earlier this week.
He said that meetings with town officials earlier this year prompted the provincial government to expedite its needs assessment for the region.
He declined, however, to give a timeline for any changes.
Horne’s sympathies are cold comfort to Sylvan Lake residents, many of whom are left to wonder whether they would fare any better than Boychuk did should the need arise.
There are seven urgent care centres in the province.
Sylvan Lake is an ideal candidate for the eighth.
The need is urgent.
Cameron Kennedy is an Advocate editor.