The City of Grande Prairie is developing an attraction and retention strategy for health care professionals in the city.
The three key areas of focus are information, incentives and infrastructure.
“This problem of health care physicians and health care professionals is not a one-size-fits-all solution,” said Mayor Jackie Clayton.
She noted that having a wide variety of incentives will give individuals a range of reasons to consider the city as a place to practice.
“While it’s widely recognized that we need more doctors and specialists, it’s not so widely discussed that we also need significant numbers of other health care professionals,” said coun. Gladys Blackmore.
Before the Grande Prairie Regional Hospital opened in December 2021, a 2017 analysis by Deloitte indicated labour gaps in the hospital. The study noted a local need for several health care positions including physicians and specialists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, X-ray and laboratory technicians and assistants, nutritionists, dietitians, pharmacists and pharmacist technicians.
City administration has begun working on the strategy outline and is looking for council feedback before doing a cost analysis on items mentioned in the strategy.
“We’ve had some preliminary conversations internally and with key partners to both understand what we’re currently doing and what opportunities may exist for the city as we develop a strategic approach to attraction and retention of healthcare professionals,” said Kim Pinnock, acting director of city Economic Development.
“We hope to explore ways to enhance communication about the workforce opportunities that exist in the city, the quality of life pieces or amenities and hopefully draw and attract healthcare professionals to the community,” said Pinnock.
She noted many misperceptions of the assets and opportunities available in the city are still believed by many nationally.
“We’re still kind of fighting those battles around perception.”
The strategy also includes creating a co-ordinated plan for physicians and medical professionals visiting the city to meet with local leaders and professionals.
Additionally, the city will create a resource guide aimed specifically at physicians looking to relocate.
A large marketing campaign targeted at new students, newcomers and physicians is also in the strategy.
The city will also look at creating an Attraction and Retention Advisory Committee. Mayor Jackie Clayton noted she also sits on the South Peace Professionals Attraction and Retention Committee (SPPARC) as a non-voting member.
Engaging with high school students and setting up a partnership with the University of Alberta to support medical student storytelling will also be explored, along with working with AHS to create a try-it day and support a skills weekend similar to the Rural Health Professions Action Plan (RhPAP) skills days in rural areas.
Pinnock said the city currently offers incentives to medical residents and students serving the community, such as passes to the Eastlink Centre.
“We hope to explore other ways in which incentives can be used to set Grande Prairie apart from other communities,” she said.
According to a city report, it will look into relocation incentives for physicians along with retention bonuses.
According to the report, bursaries for local medical students will also be considered.
Additionally, hosting an annual Physician Appreciation event, an expansion of the council-hosted physician appreciation mixer, is part of the strategy, with the plan to invite medical students, residents, and other allied health professionals.
In speaking with local physicians, Pinnock said “a space for new physicians to set up practice and support for preceptors who are willing to teach new medical residents is something that would enhance our ability to attract new physicians and specialists.”
The strategy plans to work with AHS, local physicians and post-secondary institutions to support the development of a teaching clinic along with clinic space for new graduates.
The strategy will also look at providing grants or incentives to new physicians looking to open a new practice in a commercial space within the city.
According to the city report, the housing supply should be increased as short-term housing and rentals are required for visiting students, residents, physicians and specialists.
The province has also recognized the need for medical professionals in the South Peace.
In January, it committed $1 million to explore opportunities to train rural physicians in Grande Prairie and Lethbridge.
In February, the province announced $158 million for a new Health Workforce Strategy, which included programs to attract and retain rural physicians and support internationally trained nurses immigrating to Alberta.
Council added attraction and retention of health care professionals in the city to its 2023 advocacy priority list in May.
By Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Jun 15, 2023