When Sylvan Lake went looking for volunteers for a new health committee the response was overwhelming.
“With most volunteer committees you’re lucky if you can fill the spots,” said Sylvan Lake Mayor Megan Hanson on Wednesday. “With this one, we were over-subscribed to the point where we changed the terms of reference to include more people because we just had excellent applicants.”
It is an encouraging start for the committee that will be focused on physician recruitment and retention.
“We only just got together as a full group for the first time last month,” said Hanson.
The group will meet monthly and she expects in the next meeting or so it will have a better handle on how best to attract new physicians to the community or encourage those already with local ties to remain.
Sylvan Lake lobbied for years for more local health-care options. The opening of Sylvan Lake Ambulatory Care Service in 2018 after a $2-million renovation of the community’s health centres was cause for celebration in the fast-growing community that has now reached about 16,500 people.
The urgent care centre offers diagnosis and treatment of urgent but non-life-threatening conditions, such as minor cuts or burns, muscle and joint strains, bone fractures, and fever in young children.
However, doctor shortages have frequently forced the urgent care centre to shorten its daily hours.
While the service is supposed to be available from the 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, Alberta Health Services has often sent out notices that the clinic will open later or close earlier because a doctor was not available. A physician must be on staff for the urgent care centre to accept patients.
“It’s a huge concern,” said Hanson. “It’s been far more frequent to what is acceptable in terms of how often we’ve had closures. For periods of time, it’s been weekly, if not more than that.
“It’s far too frequent and we know we need that reliable care for Sylvan Lakers to access.”
Further pressure was put on local health care with the closure a year or so ago of a local medical clinic, whose doctors moved to a new Red Deer clinic.
That only added to the number of people who turned to the urgent care centre for their health issues, said Hanson.
Doctor shortages, especially in rural Alberta, have been an issue for many years.
On Thursday morning, Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides and Health Minister Jason Copping will talk about how the government is addressing the problem in a news conference at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary.