By Erika Mathieu
Sunny South News
Grant Hunter, MLA for Taber-Warner has addressed a number of issues during his Feb. 3 delegation at a regular Lethbridge County council meeting. A major focus of the delegation was speaking to ongoing concerns with Alberta Health Services and EMS.
Hunter said the UCP have just taken on too much in their term so far.
“Let’s just be clear, we have been trying to tackle more than we should have in one term. We are three years into this and if the polls are correct, change isn’t really acceptable to people. We have tried to do so much, so fast,” said Hunter, who added the ongoing pandemic dominating headlines all around the globe is, “really all that Albertans want to hear about.”
A major concern for many Albertans has been issues surrounding the healthcare system.
“COVID has slowed things down on the healthcare front but the other fronts we have been moving at breakneck speed, two-thirds of our time in government has been COVID,” said Hunter.
“We want to have the best and brightest come here but it is not easy … we pay more than other provinces when it comes to paying our health care professionals (…) we need to be a little less top-heavy,” said Hunter, adding the province has some of the highest salaries for physicians in the country.
Coun. Morris Zeinstra asked, “if we are paying so well, how come they are all leaving?”
In response to this, Hunter said, “it’s not true Morris, that’s what the media tells you. I would just caution you to maybe question whether or not the media is correct in that (…) we have a net increase in doctors in Alberta year after year, every year and I am sorry but if you want to see the stats, and you could take that back to the media that’s fine, the media refuses to cover that, so I am sorry, but that’s not true.”
Despite the net increase in doctors across the province, the issue continues to be in hiring and retaining physicians in rural areas, particularly the south zone. According to the government of Alberta’s website, the number of doctors in urban Alberta rose by approximately nine per cent between 2016 and 2020. However, the number of doctors in rural areas in Alberta rose by only one per cent.
Last week the UCP announced new measures to encourage the recruitment and retention of new family doctors in rural communities across Alberta. On Jan. 31, Health Minister Jason Copping announced the launch of a new program to improve the recruitment and retention of family physicians in rural communities across Alberta. He said the province has committed to, “investing $90 million, this year into rural physician recruitment and retainment.” Copping also announced the new program RESIDE, a $6 million program that will aim to recruit and retain doctors for rural areas in Alberta over three years.
However, while the RESIDE program will offer incentives to attract newcomers to the profession and improve access to doctors for rural Albertans, Lethbridge, a city with over 100,000 permanent residents, continues to see nearly one in four people without a family doctor. As of Feb. 9, no doctors were accepting new patients within Lethbridge. More broadly within the Chinook Primary Care Network, only clinics were accepting new patients in Milk River, Standoff, and Cardston. The city would not be eligible for the RESIDE program as it is aimed to address shortages in rural regions. As of today, 15 rural communities have been identified as eligible so far.