The M.D. of Smoky River decided at its committee of the whole meeting Feb. 13 to pull out of a regional committee that was formed to attract physicians into the region.

A new contract was created last year to extend an agreement between the M.D., Town of Falher, Town of McLennan, Village of Girouxville, and Village of Donnelly to support the Smoky River Regional Health Care Professionals’ Attraction and Retention Committee, a committee designed over a decade ago to help attract and retain doctors in the area.

The new agreement was changed to include all health care professionals, but no increase in salary was added to the coordinator’s contract, meaning their scope of work would be increased with no extra compensation for the work.

“We (the five municipalities) all signed an agreement for physician recruitment that included all health care professionals,” says M.D. Reeve Robert Brochu.

“We have no problem with the agreement to recruit everyone including locums, nurses, nurse practitioners, that’s what we agreed upon.”

The contract was never signed by the coordinator because the scope of their employment would broaden with no additional remuneration to compensate them for the additional work. Thus, the contract the municipalities signed was never legally binding because the coordinator had concerns that the committee was trying to negotiate.

The April 2011 total budget for a coordinator was $27,000, and the 2024 agreed budget is $30,000. The figure includes not only the coordinator’s salary but also any of the expenses accrued with office expenses, insurance, mileage, Rural Health Professional Action Plan conference fees (including registration, hotel, mileage, and food), Employment Insurance, Canadian Pension Plan, Workman’s Compensation Benefits, equipment costs and materials.

The new contract was signed by the five municipalities with understanding from committee meetings that the funding would be used to first attract doctors, and then if any time and funding remained it could be used to attract other health care professionals. Because the contract was vague and didn’t specify the communicated terms, the coordinator chose not to sign and asked for the clarification to be added to the contract.

The coordinator was concerned that with vague wording, anticipating that expectations would be greater than what they could accomplish with the provided budget. The committee met and decided on changes that should be made to the coordinator contract.

“We were under the impression that we were going to discuss the agreement and come up with a compromise to ensure clarity,” says Village of Donnelly chief administrative officer Matthew Ferris.

“There were concerns with the language all health care professionals, because where does that scope end? Would physiotherapists be a priority over doctors? A pharmacist? The committee must make sure the contract is fair and also that the focus of the group doesn’t change, that they’re to recruit physicians primarily,” he adds.

There are currently four physicians who work in the region, with one physician still required to meet adequate standards set by the Province.

There is also a nurse practitioner who works out of the Falher clinic; however, Alberta Health Services does not give hospital privileges to NPs, so the committee is still actively recruiting one physician.

With the expected exit of the M.D. from the committee, the financial responsibilities will be on the remaining four communities to fund the committee.

“Ultimately the four municipalities with the least amount of money will have to find the money to run it or we will have to scrap the program,” says Ferris.

The benefits of having a designated physician recruitment coordinator are best outlined by a local physician’s husband, who said they chose the Smoky River Region over a number of other rural communities because of the communication they were able to receive.

“Moving is both an exciting and daunting task, let alone immigrating,” says Rob Mathys.

“We had the choice between three rural towns, and what made the Smoky River Region an easier choice was knowing that we had a dedicated person to help us figure out the transition every step of the way. Knowing that we could call one person to help answer all our questions and not having to scramble figuring who the right person is to help us was such a relief,” he adds.

Mathys explains none of the other rural communities had the same level of support offered to them in a designated coordinator.

“The dedicated person made the transition much easier and made us feel welcome in our new hometown,” explains Mathys.

“The relationship is an ongoing one and doesn’t stop once you move. She is an invaluable asset, not just for my wife as the physician, but our entire family.”

Although the coordinator contract was never officially finalized, committee member and Falher councillor Lindsay Brown says the intent and understanding of the contract had never been changed.

“Professional health care support has been focused on physicians and their families, including recruiting, and settling into our communities, which is the work that the committee and coordinator have been doing for the past 12 years,” says Brown.

“With less money going in, the program may not run as long. The program could be done soon if the funding is gone, or the towns have to put a lot more finances in which has to come out of some other area.”

Reeve Brochu says that the M.D. is in full support of the program, just not satisfied that the contract agreed upon by the municipalities will not be fulfilled, and thus they’ve decided to withdraw from the committee. After the regional meeting March 6, Brochu added that after a lengthy discussion amongst the municipalities, that he is confident the five communities will be able to work toward an agreement that will address concerns and potentially change the decision of the M.D. council.

“The M.D. is still 100 per cent supportive of this program in our area,” Brochu says.

Emily Plihal Local Journalism Initiative Reporter – South Peace News – southpeacenews.com

Original Published on Mar 13, 2024 at 14:10