One of the great things about being Mayor is that you usually don’t have to look to hard to find information. It will often find me. Some times the information is good, and sometimes it can be a bit dull.
Residents often reach out to me to get answers to their questions, seek help in fixing their problems, or want their concerns addressed. There are many issues that are outside my ability to handle, but every once in a while there is something I can make a difference on.
As much as we all crave action though, often what we are really looking for is information. If we can understand why something is happening, the problem often doesn’t seem so big.
My phone and email have been blowing up with messages, comments, and questions. All have one thing in common… wait times and access to medical professionals at the Family Care Clinic. This is definitely one I don’t have a magic wand, as health care is provincial mandated.
I did go digging for some answers to some of your questions and concerns, and would like to take some time to explain what I found out and now know about the issue.
The best part of the holiday season is taking time off to spend with those we love. Here in Slave Lake we have some great medical practitioners, and they deserve time off just like the rest of us. Like any business, holidays tend to leave schedules tighter than we are usually comfortable with.
Fully staffed we have 6-7 physicians and 7 nurse practitioners working at the Family Care Clinic (FCC). These physicians also take turns doing emergency calls at the other end of the hospital, so the staff can be quite busy.
Alberta Health Service is an employer, and it employees can sometimes get sick, go on vacations, attend weddings, mourn for the loss of loved ones, and take care of their children like you and I. Also medical practitioners are constantly learning, growing their knowledge in the field of medicine, and attending school to serve us better. Schooling that can sometimes be in Edmonton, or another city.
We currently have one physician on maternity leave, one recently retired, and two away for various reasons. With our Nurse Practitioners, we have one on maternity leave, two vacancies and one away for extended time at the moment.
So what does this all mean?
For the week between Christmas and New Years, Slave Lake FCC had only 3 Physicians 3 Nurse Practitioners available, and they worked for 12 hours a day/ 7 days a week and also managed emergencies. You can imagine that this resulted in reduction of walk in appointments they could handle, and increased pressure on the hospital services.
So that gives you an idea of the situation we are currently in, but you are probably more interested in finding out what AHS is doing to help alleviate the current stress on the Slave Lake FCC.
First off we have recruited another physician who has committed to coming to Slave Lake. He has surgical abilities, and can do C sections which is huge for our region. He has to do assessment in another community for three months and will be starting that later this month so we will hopefully see him in early spring.
We recently toured another physician and have another interested physician coming in February. Our other two physicians currently away will return by mid month.
For the nurse practitioners’ vacancies in Slave Lake AHS is getting a little more aggressive in searching for applicants to fill those vacancies. From a Town’s standpoint we have some ideas on how we can help with that, and as such we will assist AHS where we can. The great news is we have a nurse that has recently completed her studies and is hours away from becoming licensed as a nurse practitioner and will begin practicing right away filling one of the vacancies.
Most of these are medium to long term solutions, so in the short term, we have reached out for some locum support, which means Slave Lake will have physicians and nurse practitioners that will help do some contract work in the interim.
Just a reminder that local pharmacists can provide temporary prescription refills in some cases where you have a history of needing your medication. So if you are waiting for an appointment, and are in desperate need for a refill on your medication, it may be worth stopping by to see your local pharmacist before waiting hours at the hospital for walk-in.
I can understand the level of frustration on this issue. My family and I have experienced it ourselves. On the other hand, these professionals are just people who work a lot of hours dealing with people who are often tired, angry and sick. They have lives just like you and I, and that can sometimes create shortages in availability.
People get sick, move, retire, have children and although some can be planned for some can’t. There is a plan though to try and alleviate this gap in access we currently have. AHS feels the pressure, and after meeting with them this morning, I am confident they have a plan to deal with it. Short and long term help is on the way.
The best thing we can do in the mean time is monitor the situation and be patient. I hope this information helps give you a clearer picture of what is happening. Council is concerned, and will do our best to assist where possible while continuously advocating for our residents who deserve great access to health care.