HP physician concerned about change for locums

Richard Froese
South Peace News

Local rural communities could be short of physician locums under a plan to transfer the budget to Alberta Health Services (AHS) from the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) starting Sept. 1.

That has longtime High Prairie physician Dr. Robin Laughlin concerned that rural communities will suffer when AHS takes over the program from the AMA.

“The impact on rural communities could be mammoth,” says Laughlin, a physician in High Prairie for 45 years.

“We could be without locums that many rural practices rely on.”

Currently, the locum program is provided to fill in for physicians on leave or holidays.

Laughlin is upset about a decision stated by Health Minister Tyler Shandro in a letter dated July 22 to the AMA.

“The physician locum services program is working well under the AMA,” Laughlin says.

“I see no benefit taking the budget to AHS.

“What I do foresee, unfortunately, with AHS having more power over which communities benefit from a locum doctor, there is another opportunity for the inappropriate use of power for political or personal gain.”

He is calling on the health minister to change his mind.

“I would respectfully ask….Shandro, in the spirit of diplomacy, to enter into discussions and negotiations with the Alberta Medical Association and ask that he reverse his decision to remove the locum services program budget from the AMA,” Laughlin says.

He says AHS is taking on too much.

“AHS is a huge unwieldy organization,” Laughlin says.

He fears the planned move will be just as devastating as a transition of mental health services to AHS from the Alberta Mental Health Board.

“Once mental health was taken under the wing of AHS, we saw an immediate reduction in face-to-face service and wait lists for children and adults of more than three months,” Laughlin says.

He is concerned that local communities will suffer by potential shortage of staff serving the High Prairie Health Complex.

The AMA provided communities with locum physicians for many years when a community requested coverage to serve when a regular physician was away.

“When our community had a shortage of two doctors to work the emergency room (EF), the AMA was able to help fill the gaps and keep our ER open,” Laughlin says.

“The AMA, along with my staff, worked very hard, to ensure our ER did not close.”

He disagrees with Shandro that the change will save money for the (United Conservative Party) government.

“I believe that there will be no cost savings by assigning this budget to AHS, Laughlin says.

“We have seen budgets for specific projects disappear within AHS due to the organization’s cumbersome nature.”

“I support the UCP government in reducing costs to health care due to the organization’s cumbersome nature,” Laughlin says.

The issue was presented at the Town of High Prairie council meeting July 28 by Councillor Brian Gilroy as a late item.

He believes the change could hurt the local region.

“In the past, it has worked well with the AMA and we have been treated as well as urban centres,” says Gilroy, who has passion to protect and enhance healthcare services in the region.

“Our hospital is taking a beating and the community can’t take it any more,” Gilroy says.

Council agreed to write a letter of concern to the health minister and send copies of the letter to Premier Jason Kenney and Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn.

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