Sylvan Lake Mayor Megan Hanson mostly supports Alberta Health Services’ plan to address chronic doctor shortages at the town’s urgent care clinic.
AHS wants to hire three new physicians for the community, including two who are committed to working hours in Sylvan Lake Advanced Ambulatory Care Services (AACS), as well as lining up more outside Locum physicians who can fill in when needed. Bringing in nurse practitioners to assist and improving scheduling, possibly with shorter shifts, may also be considered, says AHS in an open letter to the community.
“I think it’s great that there is a plan,” said Hanson. “It seems like they’ve got some action and things that will hopefully lighten the load in the future.”
However, one part of the province’s proposed strategy is ringing alarm bells with supporters of ambulatory care services, which provides diagnosis and treatment of urgent but non-life-threatening illnesses or injuries. It is usually open 7:30 a.m to 10 p.m. daily at the town’s community health centre.
AHS suggests it will review “possible changes in hours of operation during the summer months to better align with times of peak demand after hours.”
No final decision has been made “nor would it without appropriate discussion with community partners and residents,” says the letter, from Janice Stewart, AHS Central Zone chief zone officer, and Dr. Michael Mulholland, acting zone medical director.
Reducing hours is a non-starter, said Hanson.
“For us, a change in hours would not be an acceptable solution at all. We hope there are other options explored before we ever go there.
“But everything else outlined is great.”
Susan Samson, who chairs the Sylvan Lake and Area Urgent Care Committee, said while they support the AHS’s plans, especially the proposal to use nurse practitioners to fill physician gaps, changing the care centre’s hours is not an option.
“The Urgent Care Committee is not supportive of a change or reduction in operating hours of the Advanced Ambulatory Care Service,” said Samson.
“Patients using the AACS need access every day, daytime and evening hours. Requiring medical assistance can not be scheduled.
“Our area is currently under-serviced by doctors. Cutting back on the operating hours of the AACS further exasperates the need for medical attention for non-life-threatening injuries in our immediate area.”
AHS says in its letter it shares local concerns about the disruptions in service in urgent care. Staff fatigue, the challenges posed by the pandemic, summer vacations and illness have all contributed to the temporary closures.
Urgent care committee representatives plan to come to a town council meeting later this month to discuss ways it and the municipality can work together on issues such as how to better recruit and retain health providers.