By Cole Parkinson
As rural Albertans continue to ask questions about healthcare in their areas, Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter understands some of the concerns being brought forward.
As part of his delegation to the Municipal District of Taber on Jan. 24, council had questions on a variety of issues including ambulance services, rural healthcare, and physician availability.
“Healthcare is an ongoing issue and always will be, especially in areas where you have growth. Alberta is growing again, we’ve got that Alberta advantage back and we’ve got a net migration into Alberta and there have been three consecutive years of that,” stated Hunter. “In rural Alberta, there has been a decrease in rural physicians — a 1.4 per cent decrease. Compared to a five per cent growth in Canada for that same period of physicians. Now, it’s important to know this information and that comes from the Canadian Institute for Health Information. In 2021, there were 753 rural physicians and between 2017 and 2021 that number actually dropped by 1.4 per cent. Specifically in the South Zone here, in 2021 the number of family physicians per 100,000 population was 122 and in the South Zone we had 112 physicians per 100,000.”
With Taber and area being focused on, Hunter explained some of the things happening soon. Taber has a handful of doctors already and he stated there were plans to add even more.
“How do we make that up? Right now, there are 10 physicians serving Taber and the area. Right now, Alberta Health Service is actively recruiting four physicians to Taber, two are general practitioners with anaesthesia training and two are general practitioner physicians,” he added.
The provincial government is well aware of the issue, explained Hunter, and he also explained some of the work they’ve been doing to address concerns stemming from rural Alberta.
“In terms of the work that the government is doing for the retention and recruitment of physicians, we’re spending about $120 million. That money went to Rural, Remote, Northern, so they kind of split up but they fall under that one umbrella. There was $69 million in that envelope for rural medical education — it was approximately $6 million for that. That’s the program where we recognize that if you’re going to keep physicians in rural Alberta, have them come from rural Alberta. They have their grandparents and their families, they’re used to the area, and they want to be in rural Alberta. So they’ve got a $6 million spending envelope to do that,” he said. “The rural integrated Community Clerkship program which is approximately $4 million, the Rural Health Professions Action Plan which is approximately $9 million, and one of the recommendations the ministry had for you is to make sure you’re accessing the RHPAP (Rural Health Professions Action Plan) program and working specifically with them.”
He also touched on ambulance response times which have been under scrutiny over the past several months. Looking at provincial data for the area, Hunter explained to council that the vast majority of response times have seen minor improvements over the past few years.
“You had asked about the details of that. In terms of the M.D. of Taber, as we looked at the metrics, the M.D. of Taber their times have actually gone down in terms of wait times, according to the statistics I have here. In the M.D. of Taber, the 50 per cent or medium response time has decreased from 19 minutes in 2016 to 17 minutes and 20 seconds in 2021. The last full year available that we have (went) to 15 minutes and two seconds in 2022,” he continued. “The 90th per cent response time has decreased from 31 minutes and 20 seconds in 2016 to 29 minutes and 47 seconds in 2021, to 27 minutes and 17 seconds in 2022. So, it’s nice that we have that data. I’m more looking at the trajectory and which way that is going. That’s not the case in all areas though, the Town of Taber, their response times in the 50th per cent have gone up. In the 90th per cent, it went down, so they have those metrics and they’re keeping track of those things.”
The last thing Hunter touched on was code reds.
“In terms of code red, they don’t track code reds anymore. They kind of track the times, so they’re trying to get better in terms of those times. As you’ve heard, the Town of Coaldale is looking at being able to bring in-house their EMS services. It’s due to the fact they’ve been internally keeping track of the code reds and they feel it is necessary for them to do that.”