New doctor attraction challenges northern towns

by Jeff Burgar
High Prairie South Peace News

Communities served by two busy hospitals in Northern Alberta are wondering why Alberta Hospital Services is fighting against them as they try to attract new doctors.

The two communities, the Smoky River region with a modern hospital in McLennan, and the High Prairie / Lesser Slave Lake region, with a hospital in High Prairie, have been working hard to attract new doctors. One of those communities, High Prairie has a new, $220 million hospital under construction, ready to replace the current hospital when the new one is finished in 2017.

Over the years, and through successive governments, premiers, different ministers of health, and different directors of Alberta Health Services, the story is always seems to be the same – Alberta Health doesn’t want qualified doctors working in these hospitals. Or for that matter, in many parts of rural Alberta.

“It’s the same story, over and over again. We work hard to get a qualified doctor, or two or three. AHS finds something wrong,” says George Keay of High Prairie. Keay is a former mayor of High Prairie, and has served for years on the local community Physician Attraction and Retention Committee.” The difficulty in attracting doctors spans decades. He says it is an ongoing challenge, made no easier by policies in AHS that are unfathomable.

In one instance years ago, “We had two very qualified doctors,” says Keay. “AHS says they had immigration issues. Next thing you know, they are working in Newfoundland.” Keay says it is remarkable AHS, a provincial body, was meddling in the federal jurisdiction of immigration. But, that’s what they told us, he says.

Over the same doctors, other local officials were stymied and misled. Myrna Lanctot, then mayor of Donnelly in northern Alberta, questioned then minister of health Ron Liepert in front of 400 people in Edmonton. Liepert cited the same vague immigration issues and tried to claim it was a confidential matter. Lanctot pressed the minister, and told him whatever issues they had must have been solved. “Newfoundland seems to be happy with them,” she said, so there must not have been any real immigration issues.

Liepert switched to a new story, saying the same two doctors were “very skilled, “very qualified,” and would likely be “very expensive,” so that’s why they were turned down. To which another local official said, “So what you really mean is, they were too good for us in Northern Alberta?” Liepert had no reply to that.

In the following years, nothing has changed says Keay. In an ongoing situation at the moment, Keay says they have a doctor wanting to live and work in High Prairie. But AHS says he won’t make enough money to be happy, so won’t let him work.

“What business is it of AHS what money he makes?” asks Keay. “If he feels he will be happy in our community, then he should be allowed to live and work here.”

 

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