Red Deer Primary Care Network defends work in community

Red Deer Primary Care Network is reporting savings to the health-care system by continuing to help vulnerable populations like the homeless and those experiencing mental health crises.

Red Deer Primary Care Network is reporting savings to the health-care system by continuing to help vulnerable populations like the homeless and those experiencing mental health crises.

The update was included in the PCN’s Community Impact Report for 2015-16 and comes after the release of a provincial government review in June that questioned the spending and progress of Primary Care Networks.

According to Red Deer’s recent report, its Street Clinic had 403 new patients for the year and saves the system about $3 for every dollar invested in the clinic.

Its Police and Crisis Team (PACT) saves the system about $6 for every dollar spent and saw a 30 per cent increase in mental health crisis calls that year.

The team diverted 90 per cent of its cases from Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s emergency department in 2015-16.

The provincial review, that studied 13 out 42 PCNs and did not include any operating in Central Alberta, found instances of inappropriate expenditures, little evidence they properly matched their programs with community needs, and were slow to develop effective inter-disciplinary teams.

Dr. Peter Bouch, past chair of the Red Deer network, said the review is a wake-up call for some PCNs, but 10 years ago when PCNs were first developed there was not much financial guidance.

“There are PCNs that are using money inappropriately and that’s got to stop,” Bouch said.

“The money that you get is government money. It’s money from tax dollars so you have to spend it wisely and responsibly and on patient care which is what it’s suppose to be used for.”

Red Deer PCN receives a $7.75-million annual budget and includes 87 family doctors who work with other health professionals to provide comprehensive care at their clinics and through group and individual programs.

He said Red Deer PCN is spending its money wisely, but will have to examine its services with no new money coming to PCNs.

“Being able to see what areas have the most impact, and putting your money there is what we’ve always tried to do. It is difficult to always predict things. But in general the PCNs have done a pretty good job at that.”

He said the Red Deer PCN budget pays for health professionals and staff to run PCN programs and to rent its downtown offices. Doctors are only paid for PCN-related work like meetings or working at the Street Clinic.

“The amount of money that actually goes into physicians pockets is probably less than five per cent. It’s going to the staffing that gives direct patient care and the programs.”

Expanding inter-disciplinary teams means finding the necessary space, he said.

“Sometimes logistically, it is just a difficult thing to do. A lot of physicians’ offices when they were built initially were built for maximum efficiency for physicians. They weren’t built with PCN in mind.”

But he said Red Deer had some recent success in adding support nurses to doctors’ clinics to manage patients and connect to patients who don’t regularly visit their doctor to make sure they get regular screenings and tests they require.

“We only have about 30 per cent of physicians that have a support nurse because we’re still in the process of hiring. Even in this short period of time, we’ve been able to pick up things like breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes, that wouldn’t otherwise be picked up.”

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