As Albertans begin their journey to the polls to cast their votes in the 2023 Alberta Provincial Election, Alberta Municipalities is reminding people to ask, "Who has the best plan for healthcare?"
During the organization's third and final press conference of the election cycle, Cathy Heron, President of Alberta Municipalities, didn't hold back when discussing healthcare, especially the state of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in the province.
"Things aren't great," she stated. "They have improved over the last 15 months."
Heron attributed the recent improvements to the EMS advisory committee established by former Premier Jason Kenney in January 2022. Heron herself was a member of the committee.
"It was actually refreshing to be consulted and engaged by the provincial government on such a critical issue," Heron added.
However, Heron had a firsthand experience with the state of EMS more recently. "About six months ago, I needed an ambulance at a family member's house."
"A van arrived with an advanced care paramedic on board, assessed my family member's situation, and realized they needed an ambulance, which I probably could have told them when I called 9-1-1 in the first place," she said. "I live in St. Albert, and the ambulance had to come from Fort Saskatchewan because there was none available in my city."
Consequently, an ambulance was dispatched from Fort Saskatchewan to rush Heron's family member to the hospital since the one in St. Albert was unavailable.
When it comes to healthcare as a whole, Alberta Municipalities does not solely blame the current government but past governments as well.
"It took years for this situation in Alberta to reach this point, and realistically, resolving it will require a serious long-term plan," Heron stated.
"Without access to primary healthcare providers, health conditions can worsen, and new concerns may not be detected until they are impossible to treat," Heron emphasized.
Heron also mentioned that Alberta Municipalities has been receiving feedback from communities across Alberta indicating that healthcare professionals, including EMS personnel, nurses, and doctors, are leaving the profession due to frustration, overwork, and burnout.
Legal Mayor Trina Jones personally witnessed the departure of medical professionals in her community. Within her immediate family, only her husband has a stable physician as her doctor recently informed her of his pending retirement.
"The doctor that I've been seeing for 30 years is retiring. My daughters have aged out of the pediatric system, leaving only my husband with a stable physician situation," Jones admitted.
Jones urged the next government to take action to address this issue, warning that Alberta will experience a snowball effect on healthcare if consistency is not maintained. "Without consistency, it leads to a snowball effect with more ambulance calls, more ER visits, and increased pressure on our already strained system."
Ren Giesbrecht, Mayor of Summer Village of West Cove, expressed the ongoing challenge of attracting and retaining primary care doctors in his community. "Medical professionals may come out for a few years and then want to move to an urban center."
Giesbrecht believes that the next provincial government should focus on nurse practitioners, as their education and training are similar to that of general practitioners. Nurse practitioners can diagnose, order tests, prescribe medication, and refer patients to doctors and specialists.
"But again, not many small communities are aware of or consider them for recruitment into their clinics," Giesbrecht admitted. He attributed this to how Alberta healthcare funds nurse practitioners, stating, "They must go through a doctor to bill AHS, and they cannot direct bill. That has to be under a doctor's supervision."
Heron emphasized that the work to fix Alberta's healthcare system needs to begin sooner rather than later, regardless of which party forms the government after May 29th. The next provincial government will undoubtedly face challenges on the healthcare front.
We kindly ask for your support in backing Cross Border Interviews. Every contribution, no matter the size, makes a significant difference in our ability to provide the essential coverage that our communities deserve.You can donate securely through our fundraising page.