HPMC worries over patient care

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

With the High Prairie Medical Clinic [HPMC] closed due to Dr. Robin Laughlin’s recent emergency surgery, where do his 2,500 patients go for medical treatment?
It’s the question the HPMC is asking anyone last week in searching for an answer to tell their patients.
HPMC is more than willing to send patients to the High Prairie Community Health & Wellness Clinic, but they still have concerns.
“There is a sign on the door. . .that they are not taking on any new patients,” wrote HPMC manager Judy Johnston to Dr. Francois Belanger in a letter March 21.
“I have redirected those I can to McLennan but they will be overloaded soon,” added Johnston.
Belanger is vice-president, quality, and chief medical officer, AHS, and a member of the executive leadership team.
“Alberta Health Services created this crisis, what are you going to do to help our patients?” asked Johnston.
“Our patients are panicking, and rightly so.”
HPMC has accused AHS of trying to put the clinic out of business for years by thwarting attempts to recruit and hire new doctors. Currently, HPMC has no doctors to cover during Dr. Laughlin’s absence and the clinic is closed.
“Even if you disagree that AHS was doing this to Dr. Laughlin, the North Zone director, Dr. Brian Muir, stated that High Prairie has enough doctors in his community engagement Zoom meeting a few weeks ago and that we ‘should be grateful’ for the ones we have,” wrote Johnston.
She concluded in her sternly-worded letter that doctors are needed now and “I will be grateful when Alberta Health Services shows some care and compassion to the patients of Dr. Laughlin’s clinic.”
Dr. Brian Muir, zone medical director, North, for AHS responded in a letter March 22.
“I confirmed that the [Wellness Clinic] has one physician accepting new patients; the clinic provides daily walk-in service; and there is a new physician starting in April 2022,” wrote Dr. Muir.
He added it was “physicians’ professional responsibilities” involving their community practice to go to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta [CPSA] website or call them regarding continuity of care when closing or leaving a practice.
The letter did not please Johnston, who responded later the same day.
“Should Dr. Laughlin have been allowed to hire a doctor or two over the past eight years, we would have had doctors here in the clinic to take care of the patients while he is away, and in the event that he is unable to return,” wrote Johnston.
“However, that could not happen as AHS has made sure it did not happen,” she added.
Although Dr. Muir did not state specifically that patients would be served quickly, Johnston wrote the appearance of quick service at the Wellness Clinic is not the case.
“The walk-in clinic is not exactly a walk-in,” she wrote.
“A patient has to start calling at eight or 8:30 in the morning to try to get an appointment at the walk-in. But, I acknowledge that is better than nothing.”
Johnston then sent a second letter to Dr. Muir and Dr. Nichol the same day warning them of potential inadequate service.
“Currently, two doctors are away from the [Wellness Clinic]. As of next week there will not be a walk-in clinic as the [Wellness Clinic] will have only one doctor and the nurse practitioner.
“Not only will the HPMC patients have no access to a doctor, except through emergency if the emergency room is open, but it is also going to be hard on the [Wellness Clinic] patients,” she added.
And, she said, she fears existing doctors will burn out.
“I don’t believe that a new doctor to the community in April will bring enough relief. Our community needs another physician now. Once again, AHS certainly helped to cause this crisis, please do something to help all the patients and the existing doctors.”
South Peace News contacted Dr. Muir, who responded in an email March 25. He confirmed the new doctor is accepting patients and another doctor is arriving soon. He added AHS has actively worked with the Wellness Clinic to attract and hire new physicians.
“Ultimately, however, HPMC is a private practice and AHS does not hire into private facilities,” wrote Dr. Muir.
“Regarding the overall availability of physicians in High Prairie, AHS does not hire for private clinics or limit the number of physicians who may practice here. Physicians in good standing are able to join or open a private practice anywhere in Alberta.”
The phrase “in good standing” has angered the HPMC in the past. As recent as Jan. 31, they were advised a physician wanting to come to town to work at the HPMC was refused after being denied hospital privileges, thereby killing any chances of his coming to town.
HPMC issued a new release Feb. 4 advising the public of the reason. At the time, Johnston was told High Prairie had a full complement of doctors according to AHS’ workforce plan and the new physician was not needed. She described the decision as baffling.
HPMC claims this has occurred many times over the last eight years. Many times, doctors were willing to come only to be refused by the bureaucracy.
Dr. Muir wrote physicians do not need hospital privileges to work at HPMC or any other private clinic.
However, not being able to work in the hospital certainly limits potential income and the physician’s ability to fully practice medicine.
“[Physicians] who do not wish to take on a staff position at an AHS facility [also known as having privileges at that facility] are able to apply on open positions and participate in the standard, fair and transparent hiring process used by AHS,” wrote Dr. Muir.
Given the history of the last eight years, HPMC still claims AHS hiring policies are far from fair.

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