South Peace News
Warnings of a physician shortage in High Prairie appear to be coming true.
In a span of two days last week, High Prairie Medical Clinic [HPMC] owner Dr. Robin Laughlin announced March 31 he was closing the office. The next day, Alberta Health Services [AHS] announced the temporary closure of the emergency department at the High Prairie Health Complex due to lack of an on-site physician. The closures occur April 5 from 8 a.m. to April 6 at 8 a.m., and April 7 from 8 a.m. to April 8 at 8 a.m.
The news sparked concern on the High Prairie and Area Discussion Board with many expressing alarm and outrage over the situation.
News of decreased level of service comes as no surprise to HPMC manager Judy Johnston, who warned residents of the impending crisis in the March 30 South Peace News. She places the blame on Alberta Health Services for not allowing HPMC to hire doctors.
“Alberta Health Services created this crisis, what are you going to do to help out [2,500+] patients?” wrote Johnston March 21 to Dr Francois Belanger, vice-president, quality, and chief medical officer, AHS, and a member of the executive leadership team.
“Our patients are panicking and rightly so,” she added.
Dr. Laughlin had lost hospital privileges months ago.
AHS’s news of the closure certainly did not help public perception on social media.
Meanwhile, AHS says they are ensuring residents will have access to the care they need.
“Nursing staff will remain on-site in the emergency department providing urgent triage and assessments and referral for patients to alternative emergency departments in neighbouring communities,” reads an AHS news release.
Patients are asked to call 911 if they have a medical emergency. EMS calls will be rerouted to surrounding healthcare centres to ensure local residents continue to have access to the emergency services they need, says AHS.
Dr. Laughlin wrote a letter to the editor announcing his clinic’s closure which can be read in its entirely on page 7.
“To the residents of High Prairie and Big Lakes County, my friends, and my patients with whom I have shared their health care for up to 50 years in some instances. Sadly, I can no longer continue to operate the High Prairie Medical Clinic, the reasons are twofold but are related,” wrote Dr. Laughlin.
The first reason he cited was his health. Dr. Laughlin is recovering from recent surgery.
The second is his lack of success in recruiting and hiring doctors.
“There are doctors who could come and work in the community, which is perilously under doctored despite the protestations of Alberta Health Services [AHS],” writes Dr. Laughlin.
“The previous North Zone Director, Dr. Kevin Worry, in 2014, said in a public town meeting that High Prairie needed up to 11 doctors and I thought he underestimated; our catchment area population has not decreased since then,” he adds.
High Prairie is served by less than the 11 doctors needed, although one more doctor arrives this month.
Dr. Laughlin writes the creation of the High Prairie Community Health & Wellness Clinic [CHWC] in 2014 was supposed to “stabilize doctor numbers in the community” but “the turnover since 2014 is as bad as it has even been.”
Dr. Laughlin writes his efforts to hire doctors to continue operating HPMC have been futile with AHS to blame.
“I have managed to attract a succession of doctors willing to work at the HPMC. Every single doctor has been manoeuvred away from the HPMC by some ploy or other, such as changing the availability of them coming here for interviews, saying Workforce Plan does not support another doctor, etc., etc. Most of the doctors are now working elsewhere in Canada,” writes Dr. Laughlin.
“We do not, as I say, have enough doctors,” he adds. “To turn away qualified doctors because of politics is horrendous, and definitely not in the best interests of the patients of this community. I fear for the medical
needs of the community in this very fragile situation.”
HPMC will be open for about two more weeks dealing with patients. The phone line remains open for about three months so staff can provide chart copies to other clinics.
Meanwhile, reports are emerging that the CHWC is referring patients to McLennan. The reason, of course, is lack of physicians in High Prairie, something Dr. Laughlin and the HPMC was trying to address.
In his letter, Dr. Laughlin apologizes for leaving.
“For those patients I have had to leave in the lurch with unfinished business, and many are people with ongoing chronic conditions, I can only apologize as profoundly as I can. I have tried to make sure that stable patients have had repeat prescriptions for six months, but obviously that does not solve the problems. . .
“It breaks my heart to meet some of you in the street and know that I have let you down.”