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Premier outlines health-care strategy to rural municipalities

Premier outlined her government’s plans at Rural Municipalities of Alberta convention

Premier Danielle Smith told rural municipality representatives help is coming for the ailing health-care system.

Smith said in rural areas “people are waiting way too long for emergency medical treatment.

“This system is broken. Failure is no longer an option,” said the premier in a Thursday morning speech at the Rural Municipalities of Alberta fall convention in Edmonton.

Smith said changes must be made to move patients who are in hospital beds awaiting long-term care spots moved to an appropriate facility sooner.

“Without disrupting front-line services, we have to start making some major changes quickly,” she said.

“We will ensure that all areas of the province have prompt, efficient ambulance service to address emergency room lineups.”

Smith said triage will be improved so that those needing additional care, but not a hospital bed, are moved to appropriate facilities and supported there.

She also wants to see underused operating rooms in rural hospitals used to tackle orthopedic surgeries, such as hip and knee replacements. Travelling the province, she found unused operating rooms in a number of communities, including Hardisty, Medicine Hat, High Prairie and Grande Prairie.

“We can use that extra surgical capacity and clear that surgical backlog. We should be running all 106 AHS facilities at full volume to get through the surgical wait lists.”

Once the system is working better, there will be more opportunities for independent chartered surgical facilities for specialized procedures. So, there is going to be lots of opportunity for medical professionals and surgeons who think in innovate ways to meet that demand.”

Any changes will be fully compliant with the Canada Health Act, she assured the audience.

RMA president Paul McLauchlin said for municipalities, health care is the top issue, followed by inflation and soaring diesel fuel costs.

Many of the issues facing the health-care system are related to workforce shortages, a problem that is behind everything from ambulance services to policing.

It is positive that the premier is acknowledging the challenges, but the proposed solutions are long term.

“We’re concerned that the solutions have such a lag to them,” said McLauchlin, who is reeve of Ponoka County. “How is this going to take is a question I would ask because we do know the issues are not quick fixes, it’s hard to fix a lot of these things.”

Lacombe County Reeve Barb Shepherd listened to the speech and questioned how the province would go about reopening operating rooms.

“My understanding is that the reason rural hospitals are closing (operating rooms) and other services is due to staffing problems,” said Shepherd in an email.

On Wednesday, NDP Leader Rachel Notley spoke at the convention and said a major health-care worker recruitment effort is needed to improve the system.

Notley said details of the party’s recruitment strategy will be unveiled in coming weeks and will include ideas to support doctors and health professionals who want to move to Alberta. Expanding training for health-care professionals in the province and making it easier to recruit international professionals will also be part of the strategy.

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