An urgent-care centre remains out of reach of Sylvan Lake and area according to last week’s provincial budget.
Susan Samson, Urgent Care Committee chair, said it’s incredible that absolutely no money could be found in the $20.8 billion health budget for an urgent-care centre to provide care for non-life threatening injuries locally and divert patients away from hospital emergency departments.
“They don’t have a single penny for Sylvan Lake and area. It’s criminal. We’re not frustrated. We’re mad and we’re not going to take this anymore,” Samson said on Monday.
“The biggest crisis in health right now is the overcrowding in emergency. That’s all we’re trying to do is keep people who don’t require emergency services out of emergency rooms so that high level, very expensive triage is being done for the people who need it.”
The Sylvan Lake area serves a population of more than 22,000 and includes Sylvan Lake, Eckville, Bentley, Benalto, Lacombe County, Red Deer County and summer villages Birchcliff, Half Moon Bay, Jarvis Bay, Norglenwold, and Sunbreaker Cove.
As many as 750,000 people also visit the area annually.
Sylvan Lake and area have diligently pursued an urgent-care centre since 2011 that would run seven days a week, with access to a lab and X-ray.
The centre got the green light last spring from the Progressive Conservative government before they lost the 2015 provincial election.
Samson said the committee is looking to renovate an existing clinic rather than construction a new building. But the committee couldn’t even get $200,000 from $8 million put aside in the budget for health facility project planning in order to have an urgent-care centre plan ready and waiting for approval.
The situation will get even worse come June 1 when Sylvan Lake doctors will no longer provide after-hours care at closed clinics, nor will they look after patients in any capacity who are not directly attached to a doctor at Sylvan Family Health Centre, Sylvan Medical Clinic or Dr. Stephen Fugler’s office.
Sylvan Lake physicians will continue to provide phone coverage for their own patients after hours.
In an open letter to residents, the doctors said: “The current On Call Service is unsustainable. Although physician safety and burnout is an issue of concern, patient safety is by far and away the most significant and serious concern.
“We know from our data that changes to our On Call Service will mean an additional 2,000 to 3,000 visits to emergency departments in the next year; this is in addition to the already 3,000 community members forced elsewhere as a result of lack of health care service and access locally.”
Samson said the committee met with Alberta Health Services Central Zone on April 11 where they were told urgent care was not part of the zone’s current budget allocations.
Associate Minister of Health Brandy Payne said the province is continuing to work with local officials to find the best way forward for the community.
“We’ve heard the concerns coming from the community. Minister Hoffman met with the community in December and we spoke to the mayor last week. Our deputy minister of health is coming to Sylvan Lake in the coming weeks and we’re confident we can find a solution for the community,” Payne said.
Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Don MacIntyre said inaction by the province is putting lives at risk and ignoring a way to reduce health care costs.
He said the cost to operate the urgent care centre would be $2 to $2.5 million and consultants have shown that the amount of money saved in diverting non-life threatening cases away from the Red Deer hospital’s emergency department would exceed that amount.
He said urgent care in Sylvan Lake would also speed healing for patients, reduce the wait time at Red Deer’s emergency, and provide the appropriate level of 24-7 urgent care to the Sylvan Lake area.
“This is such a no-brainer for a government that needs to find ways to save money and improve patient care. And yet this minister of health turned that down. They flatly rejected this. It’s absolutely astounding,” MacIntyre said.
“I believe it is time for the people of Sylvan Lake to really rise up and mobilize on this issue,” the Wildrose MLA said.
The Urgent Care Committee is planning a rally for May 25 at Sylvan Lake Community Centre.
“We’re just going to start making some noise because I just don’t think the people who make the decisions are hearing us. I cannot believe that they would let this happen to this many people in Central Alberta,” Samson said.