Healthcare in Slave Lake can be a tough topic to talk about and to be honest I am always hesitant to do so. Our community’s experience with some great physicians moving away last year leaves us with a bad taste in our mouth. Even without that, healthcare is something that everybody talks about and while some people’s experiences have been great, others have experienced something different. So rather than poke a bear it’s easier to say nothing. The province has a habit of not saying anything, rather than something they wish they could back. I, on the other hand, usually say whatever is on my mind and deal with the consequences later. Although neither approach is a great one, I’ll stick with what I know and tell you what I think.
First off, healthcare in Slave Lake is far from perfect. There are always things you can do to make it better, but we have made some headway in improving things. One of the issues we had was around ultrasounds. Over the last year we were able to work with an outside contractor who has now set up an ultrasound clinic in the old medical center in the SE (Dr. Payne’s clinic). He will run 4 days a week which should help make people’s lives easier. We were able to lobby and increase staff capacity for physiotherapy and reduce wait times when Alberta Health Services changed the number of staff from one position to three. We also had a shortage of paramedics. This is a problem across Northern Alberta and we were able to help Northern Lakes College lobby to secure the opportunity to host a paramedic training program right here in Slave Lake. The college is currently working on putting together that program that will help us train and hopefully keep our own instead of trying to recruit from afar. We supported seniors care by adding capacity with the addition of the Points West facility being built west of Vanderwell Lodge. This new facility that will open in the coming weeks will help take pressure off long term care and assisted living and allow the aging members of our families the ability to stay in this community and keep families closer together.
We have also done quite a bit of work with Telehealth by working on education and investing in equipment. One of the most frustrating things is having to leave the community for healthcare and take a day off to travel to another community for a five minute appointment. Telehealth allows you to do a lot of those appointments through video equipment and save you time, money and stress. These can be anything from mental health, to pre and post operation appointments, specialists, dermatologists etc. So the next time you are set to do an appointment outside Slave Lake I encourage you to ask your health provider: “Is something that can be done by telehealth?”
Another thing a community always needs is more equipment. We have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on adding equipment to our hospital and family care clinic. These range from scopes, to blood pressure machines, training equipment and lifts to improve seniors care. This was a list developed by the physicians and nursing staff who work at our facilities and the items I have mentioned are only a few of what was purchased.
What about physicians? We were able to recruit five additional physicians from abroad. The fifth one will start working at the Family Care clinic in the comings weeks. Between these new physicians we will have added a physician that does obstetrics and two that do anesthetics. We will have two female physicians. We have another provider who is interested in taking additional training to do scopes so we can see these being done more regularly in our community. Later this year we will see use again of our surgical unit, which is a huge win for Slave Lake. Additionally later in 2015 we will finally see the family care clinic move into the hospital which should help with better access to increased levels of health care and better integration between the clinic and emergency.
Healthcare in Slave Lake still has opportunities to improve and we will continue to work on those. What should be recognized though is that things are changing and we are seeing the benefit of those changes. As always we will continue to work hard and improve the system and appreciate the community’s patience as these changes don’t come about quickly.