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Doctors group warns of fewer services in rural communities

Last Updated Apr 20, 2020 at 10:29 am MST

A stethoscope hangs in a doctor's office. (CREDIT: Parentingupstream, Pixabay)

CALGARY (660 NEWS) – A group of doctors says rural communities could lose valuable health care services in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a release, the Rural Sustainability Group said the Alberta’s government’s new funding model introduced at the end of March is forcing physicians to limit services needed for rural residents.

The group claims several doctors have already given notice that they can no longer provide emergency room, hospital, or obstetrical coverage in rural hospitals.

“These announcements are the canary in the coal mine, and this government should treat them seriously,” said Dr. Samantha Myhr, a family physician in Pincher Creek.

“It is difficult to attract and retain rural physicians at the best of times, and I fear that if these changes are not reversed soon, the damage to rural communities will be long-standing.”

The Rural Sustainability Group surveyed over 300 doctors and said nearly half could offer fewer hospital-based services by July, some even later.

“This crisis is going unnoticed because it is happening site by site,” says Dr. Vicci Fourie from Westlock. “Rural MLAs have been strangely silent on this issue and seem forced to tow the party line. I hope our findings encourage them to speak up publicly for their constituents.”

The president of the Alberta Medical Association Section of Rural Medicine has also chimed in saying “the government changes have created a completely avoidable health crisis that makes the way we currently practice unsustainable. We can no longer do it all and when the pandemic has passed and we return to regular practice.”

The Rural Sustainability Group is calling on the United Conservative government to suspend its new funding model during the pandemic and to work with the Alberta Medical Association on an agreement that takes rural community needs seriously.