Officials with Alberta Health Services faced some tough questions from Pincher Creek residents on Tuesday evening while attending a public engagement session.
The hour-long meeting at the Pincher Creek Community Hall was held to address periodic closures of the town’s emergency department and AHS’ ongoing recruitment efforts.
About 100 people gathered at the community centre for the meeting.
Connie Simmons, who has lived in the town for 12 years, says the temporary closures of the emergency department are only part of the overall issue.
“One of the more major concerns I still have is are we resourcing and supporting, from a provincial level, our local hospitals, our EMS, our lab technicians and all the people that work in health care?” said Simmons said following the engagement session.
Pincher Creek has about 3,500 residents and used to have 11 physicians, but now only has four.
AHS says it has one international medical graduate hoping to start in the coming months, along with two offers for family doctors and a physician assistant who has recently been hired and is anticipated to start in September.
“We’re constantly recruiting these international medical graduates,” said Dr. Sandra Stover, associate zone medical director – rural west – with AHS.
“Currently, Dr. Burton has interviewed two and was quite happy with them, so hopefully they’ll keep going with the process, agree to come to Pincher Creek and in nine to 10 months, I know it’s a long wait, but in nine to 10 months we’ll have a couple more.”
But, Stover says recruiting doctors is only half the battle.
“We can always recruit a physician, we just can’t get them to stay and that’s what people in the community want,” Stover said. “They want a longitudinal relationship with their physician.”
A housing committee has been created to ensure places are available for future hires, childcare is made available and those new to the community feel welcomed.
Simmons feels it takes a community effort to bring doctors to the town.
“I see the difficulties that they have in recruitment and retention,” Simmons added. “The communities need to rally around and help with that. I hear housing is an issue, so there’s many things we can do in our small communities to help retain our physicians.”
Pincher Creek isn’t the only southern Alberta community facing a doctor shortage.
Ongoing ER closures in Milk River continue to impact the town and the outgoing patient clinic in Picture Butte is set to close in October.
“Whatever we think is important is not necessarily what everybody else thinks is important, and all of these small communities are struggling,” Stover said. “We need healthcare to come to all of them so it’s very important to meet and hear people’s concerns.”
AHS also provided residents with an update on maternity care in the town.
At the end of May, the town’s only surgeon stopped providing obstetrical services because of a lack of trained doctors and nurses. AHS says recruitment efforts to fill the position are ongoing.