High River doctors recently released a statement explaining the dire state of health care in the community.
Dr. Alex Fay says patients arriving at Emergency have been met with longer delays than normal.
He says there has been a concern Emergency could have to close.
"We do all of our planning for the year ahead, usually in the fall before the next calendar year, this year we had several gaps in coverage where we didn't have enough physicians to fill those gaps and we've been able to fill those holes at the last minute and we've come within hours of announcing the closure of our Emergency department overnight," he says. "Thankfully we don't have any more of those gaps for the rest of the calendar year but when we look at our physician resourcing moving forward, we have a few physicians looking to retire and we know that is going to have an impact on our ability to keep our Emergency department open 24/7 in the same way we have a concern with our in-patient beds."
He says the average age of doctors in Alberta is 55, so retirements and a lack of residents willing to set up shop in rural areas is a real problem the new government needs to address.
"There's a national trend that family medicine is becoming less of an option for graduating medical students and graduating residents, that's a national trend that we've been seeing, but here in Alberta what's been really concerning is that more and more graduating students are choosing not to come to Alberta in particular," he explains.
"One of the things we mentioned in our letter to our community is that Alberta counts for 81 per cent of all vacant English-language trained program vacancies in Canada which is very significant. What it says is medical graduates would rather train in most over provinces or locales other than Alberta."
Dr .Fay says there's been a great deal of soul searching over why graduates would rather go elsewhere and they don't believe it's money but more the strained relationship between doctors and the Alberta government.
"2020 was not a great time to be a physician in Alberta, our health minister at the time really went after physicians says physicians make too much money, they don't do enough, we should be replacing primary care physicians or family doctors with nurse practitioners because that would save us more money and before that strained relationship was ever mended or repaired COVID hit and that was significant stress on physicians and that took a toll on the mental health of everyone, but physicians included, and even though a lot of time has passed that relationship has not been mended or changed."
He says a lot of grads are choosing to work in hospital which pays significantly more and does not have the overhead costs associated with a family clinic where doctors have to pay for staff, supplies equipment and everything else that come with running a business.
He says as these family clinics close more people will have to visit Emergency departments for run-of-the-mill things like prescription refills.
The doctors want to see the next government first mend the relationship between doctors and the province.
"It's also going to involve significant investment in Primary Care. In Alberta a lot of eyes are looking at British Columbia," he says. "British Columbia recently made a huge investment in their Primary Care and said Primary Care is the cornerstone of their health system, we need to invest in that and that's our priority."
He says they've been able to make Primary Care a much more palatable option for graduating doctors and it's going to take a similar type of investment to bring doctors back to Alberta and keep those who are here working.