Big Lakes County council discussed several concerns about the High Prairie Health Complex and other local health care issues at council’s regular meeting March 24. Standing, left-right, are Peace River MLA Dan Williams, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Big Lakes Reeve Ken Matthews.

Richard Froese
South Peace News

Concerns about reduced services and a shortage of physicians and staff at the High Prairie Health Complex have become a priority for the provincial health minister.

Big Lakes County council shared issues with Health Minister Tyler Shandro at its regular meeting March 24.

“Why isn’t the hospital being utilized to its full capacity?” asked Shandro asked. “I hear that loud and clear.”

Since the new health complex opened in April 2017, many services have been underutilized, Reeve Ken Matthews said as part of briefing notes to Shandro.

Services includes the CT scan and ultrasound, scopes, operating theatre, a number of acute care beds being used for long-term care patients and chemotherapy.

“Forty years ago, we had better and more services at the hospital than we have now,” Matthews said.

Matthews further told Shandro that the region also needs more physicians, nurses and other health professionals.

“The right thing to do is invest in rural,” said Shandro, son of Dr. Bud Shandro, who was a physician in High Prairie in 1976-77.

He added the government is working on a plan to direct more physicians to rural communities in partnership with the Alberta Medical Association [AMA].

“We have bought spots in medical schools for rural physicians,” Shandro said.

“We’re working with the AMA on resource planning to promote northern and rural Alberta.”

Peace River MLA Dan Williams is also committed to the local concerns.

“I’m going to continue to advocate,” said Williams, who accompanied Shandro on the visit.

“Minister Shandro and I will do our best; we will invest in our communities.”

Shandro and Williams also toured the health complex and discussed similar issues with High Prairie town council before the Big Lakes council meeting.

Shandro heard other concerns about Alberta Health Services at the Big Lakes meeting.

South Sunset House – Gilwood Councillor Ann Stewart asked Shandro to return to community hospital boards to better meet local needs to replace Alberta Health Services.

Shandro agreed AHS is not doing a good job of working with communities.

“I’ve told AHS that they must have good communications,” he said.

“I’m pushing AHS to have better relationships with municipalities and communities to advocate for residents and patients.”

Matthews said in the briefing notes that AHS has too many layers of bureaucracy.

“Control, responsibility and management of hospitals need to return to minimal regional boards, ideally through local boards,” Matthews wrote in a letter dated Dec. 21, 2020 to Bonnyville – Cold Lake – St. Paul MLA David Hanson.

The letter was initiated at a Northern Alberta Elected Leaders meeting Dec. 4 where the issue of physician shortages was presented by Matthews.

“Most rural hospitals will verify that medical services have decreased significantly since the move to regionalize these services and have completely decreased in the past 10 years,” Matthews said.

A permanent helipad at the hospital is another priority for the region to allow STARS to land. Council recommends AHS provide the County with access to the facility to conduct an engineering assessment of the proposed helipad site.

Matthews explained to Shadro that council is concerned that some physicians at the privately-owned High Prairie Medical Clinic are not granted hospital privileges.

Council also questioned why people who are ordered to get a blood test or lab work are required to phone to Edmonton to make an appointment, rather than just go to the lab after they visit their physician.

After Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn was expelled from the governing United Conservative Party Jan. 15, 2020, Williams reached out to communities in the constituency to provide access to the UCP caucus.

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