The UCP attack on healthcare continues with physicians being forced to limit their services, give up their hospital privileges and close their offices due to financial challenges caused by recent cuts and changes to physician compensation. There are reports of doctors reducing their services or leaving their regions in Rimbey, Settler, Sundre, Lac la Biche, and St. Paul.
At a meeting in Bonnyville, AB on March 11, doctors from Lac la Biche, Cold Lake, Bonnyville, and St. Paul explained to residents how the recent changes to physician billing could affect their communities. They warned of longer wait times, an exodus of doctors and reduced services which we are now seeing the proof of as 10 Lac la Biche doctors are withdrawing their ER and Obstetric services from the William J. Cazdow Health Centre after July 31, 2020 saying they are being forced to “restructure” their practice to cope with the loss of income due to recent changes.
One doctor expressed concern that changes to the way physicians bill for complex patient visits will disproportionately affect people who are not able to make frequent appointments but will now not be able to address multiple issues in one appointment. He worries that these patients will be forced to access walk ins or emergency care, a very real concern in rural areas where wait times to see a doctor are already often long and doctors usually try to fit as much in at one appointment as possible so health issues don’t go untreated for long periods of time.
Another concern is the lack of obstetricians at rural hospitals, like the Sundre hospital where there are no longer any physicians insured to provide obstetrical services, meaning that expectant parents now need to travel to hospitals in surrounding areas. As a woman who had rapid labors and even faster deliveries as well as serious complications with my last 2 pregnancies and lives in a rural area, I can attest to how stressful and dangerous that actually is. In the event of an emergency, this change could add approximately a half hour to the time it takes a pregnant woman to get the help she needs, putting mothers and babies at risk of serious complications.
The potential for risk in pregnant women in rural areas is already higher according to a 2016 UBC study which found that pregnant women in rural areas are at higher risk for serious complications when compared to women in urban areas. Researchers found that women in rural areas face approximately double the risk of life threatening complications and that their babies are more likely to have poor health outcomes at birth but are less likely to be admitted to NICU for treatment. One of the factors noted to be an issue in the study was that rural mothers are more likely to have fewer prenatal visits and a lack of availability of care in rural areas. A problem that is likely to be made significantly worse if things continue on their current course.
On top of all that, we also have a pandemic to manage. There have been some disturbing reports of front line workers either being provided poor quality supplies or being supplied none at all. There are reports of doctors and nurses being supplied inadequate or ineffective masks and funeral homes being unable to safely do their work due to challenges accessing masks and other PPE. Not only are healthcare workers facing a lack of moral support from a government that has spent the last year convincing their base that healthcare workers are “greedy” they’re also facing shortages of personal protective equipment and sanitation supplies, with one employee who works in geriatric acute care writing to Rachel Notley in an email which was shared on twitter “We have a shortage of masks. We are out of disinfectant wipes, they have substituted rags that are soaked in pcs that we wipe with until dry. I suppose that works but there’s less of those too.” With recent outbreaks of COVID in long term care facilities in Alberta, these revelations are particularly distressing. “I love my job, I just never imagined working without the supplies needed to do the job.” the email reads.
Hearing these reports while Jason Kenney claims that we have an abundance of PPE to send to other provinces to help int heir fight against COVID19 is particularly confusing and frustrating, of course we all want to help other provinces however, the inconsistencies from this government are piling up and the decisions being made could put lives at risk.
The UCP needs to change course, stop their assault of our healthcare system and focus on repairing the damage they’ve already done before it’s too late.