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Family doctors desperate for funding to save practices, says AMA

‘I would say to Albertans, it’s time to be worried’
(Photo by Advocate Staff)

Family medical practices in Alberta are “bleeding to death right now” financially and only an immediate infusion of provincial cash and an updated funding model will save them, according to a new survey.

Dr. Paul Parks, president of the Alberta Medical Association, said losing family doctors and rural generalists will make the situation even more dire at desperately overcrowded facilities like Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre and its emergency, surgery and cancer patients.

“I’m begging the premier and the (health) minister to let us put a tourniquet on those bleeding wounds,” Parks said during a press conference on Tuesday.

In December the province announced $200 million in federal funding would go to stabilizing primary care over two years.

“Not one cent has flowed to family physicians yet. Not one cent that has been promised will even come before the spring. There are practices that don’t have that kind of time.

“Family and rural generalist practices are at stake. Patient care is at stake. Our entire health care system is at stake because if you don’t fix primary care it’s impossible to address the issues in acute care or continuing care or mental health and addictions care.”


Alberta announces $200 million in funding to improve access to family physicians

Parks said an AMA survey conducted last week of family doctors and rural generalists shows 91 per cent are concerned their practices, which are small businesses, won’t survive if things don’t change.

“Without immediate support, one in five family specialists say their practices will not make it for more than six months, and in fact eight per cent have indicated they will not make it to three months, and only 21 per cent think they’ll be able to hang in for the next year.”

He said 61 per cent of family physicians are considering leaving Alberta’s health care system, either through early retirement or working in other provinces with better supports for medical practices. Fifty-four per cent of those who anticipate staying say they will have to cut or reduce the care they provide.

“I would say to Albertans, it’s time to be worried.”

If Albertans are lucky enough to have a family doctor, odds are high that their doctor will make changes to their practice to remain viable, he said.

“For those who don’t have a family doctor, it’s abundantly clear this isn’t the environment that’s going to recruit more physicians and more family specialists into our province.”


Red Deer ER uses tarps secured with duct tape to create more space for patients

Parks said staff at Red Deer’s emergency department have already been forced to create more spaces for ill patients using duct tape and tarps. Losing family doctors will mean even more Central Albertans must seek care in that department. Surgery and cancer care will also be impacted because family doctors provide pre and post-operative care in coordination with specialists. Rural Albertans will have to travel farther and wait longer in overcrowded urban facilities.

“We need Albertans to be alarmed by this and speak to their MLA and the government and insist that this is a priority for Alberta.”

Parks said the AMA has been working with the province. The health minister and premier are supportive, but action is needed now. If government allows the primary care system to crumble it will cost even more to rebuild it in the future.

“It would be very fiscally irresponsible to not act right now.”

The Advocate has reached out to Alberta Heath for comment.

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