Physician outlining issues faced in rural areas

Dr. Samantha Myhr

Physicians and community members in Pincher Creek are holding a rally on June 30 to raise the alarm about potential widespread service losses in rural communities. 

In February of this year, the UCP broke its agreement with the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) and proceeded to push through unilateral changes that left rural practices financially unsustainable. Dr. Samantha Myhr is a family physician in Pincher Creek, and one of the leaders of the Rural Sustainability Group, who highlighted the crisis those changes have caused in rural communities, including 44 sites that would have lost hospital services by July. 

In response to public outcry, government reversed many of these harmful changes, but Myhr states that without an agreement rural, hospitals remain on the chopping block due to physician losses. “If it was about money we wouldn’t still need this rally,” she says. “Physicians are leaving because of the uncertainty, and that hits rural communities the hardest.” 

A recent survey of rural physicians paints a stark picture of the state of rural health care in Alberta: 

● The majority of respondents indicated they do not currently have an adequate number of physicians with the appropriate skills to meet the health care needs in their community. 

● On top of this, 64% of respondents said they have either lost current physicians, planned recruits, or both as a result of government changes. 

● 40% of respondents have been trying to recruit physicians to their community for 1-3 years, while a further 45% have been recruiting for 4-10 years or longer. 

● 42.6% indicated that they have decided to leave Alberta, retire early, reduce services, or are actively looking for work elsewhere. Another 38.8% said they remain uncertain. 

● The unifying theme from respondents was the need for the certainty a negotiated agreement with the AMA would bring, with many stating that this would alter their decision about planned changes. 

Dr. Myhr explains why the upcoming rally is so important, “We love this community, and many of us are thoroughly embedded within it. Even so, we feel the same as the other rural physicians surveyed. If things don’t change soon we will lose part of our group, and government has made it so difficult to recruit that this could be a death blow to Pincher Creek.” 

Myhr goes on to say, “We had a new graduate lined up to help shoulder the burden carried by our sole surgeon, who has been on call nearly 24/7 for the past three years. She unfortunately changed her mind, and she was honest about government uncertainty being the reason why. Who can blame her? This was the wakeup call our group needed to take a stand. Our one surgeon is the backbone of many of our programs in Pincher Creek and if he leaves or burns out, much is at stake. We know many rural communities face a similar reality. To government, one physician leaving may not mean much. To a rural community it can mean everything.” 

EVENT DETAILS 

The Rally to Rescue Rural Health Care can be attended in-person (with adherence to public health guidelines), or online as follows: 

Date: Tuesday, June 30 

Time: 6pm – Community parade/demonstration 

7pm – Q&A with community/physician representatives In-Person Attendees: For those attending in-person, the parade will begin at Pincher Creek Community Hall and end at highway 6 (just past the hospital). Online Attendees: For those attending online, the rally will be streamed in real-time via the Rally to Rescue Rural Health Care Facebook page. The event will be interactive with the option for participants to comment and ask questions. 

Invites have been sent to local MLAs, Minister Shandro, and Premier Kenney, should they wish to be involved in the discussion on rural health care. 

Please note that all public health guidelines must be strictly adhered to during the rally. In-person attendees must practice physical distancing and are encouraged to wear masks. 

The Rural Sustainability Group is a grassroots coalition of rural physicians whose primary goals are to understand and communicate the impact of government policies on rural health care, and to advocate for equal access to full services in rural communities. They encourage the government to work with physicians to achieve sustainable, efficient health care delivery, and maintain that this can only be achieved under the security of a negotiated agreement with the Alberta Medical Association.

Go online at https://www.facebook.com/RallyToRescueRuralHealth/

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