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EDITORIAL: Cochrane Primary Care latest casualty in war between province and doctors

In medicine, practice care is preferred to reactive care. Maintenance and regular checkups can help prevent a crisis before triage is required. Unfortunately, this is not a practice embraced by the Government of Alberta.
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In medicine, preventative care is preferred to reactive care.

Maintenance and regular checkups can help prevent a crisis before triage is required.

Unfortunately, this is not a practice embraced by the Government of Alberta.

The government has been at war with provincial physicians for the past year, and the Cochrane Primary Care Centre is the latest casualty in this series of battles.

The Calgary Foothills Primary Care Network announced on Friday (April 23) that the Cochrane Primary Care Centre will close by January 2022, citing “the changing environment, including the pandemic,” and the departure of 50 per cent of the doctors at the clinic.

During the pandemic people have been foregoing care and doctors’ visits, and because the industry is a fee-for-service model, no patients mean no earnings, said Dr. Janet Reynolds, family physician and medical director of the Calgary Foothills Primary Care Network.

To add insult to injury, as a non-profit organization the Primary Care Network is not eligible for any of the federal or provincial subsidies that have aided small businesses during COVID-19.

Since February of 2020 physicians and the province have been locked in a contract dispute that was sparked after Minster of Health Tyler Shandro tore up the province’s contract with doctors.

The writing has been on the wall— In February 2020, Dr. Cathryn Zapf closed her Canmore practice because of changes to the provincial government's pay for doctors. In April 2020, Bragg Creek doctor Annelies Noordman announced she would be leaving the community due to provincial billing changes. The duo was later joined by eight doctors at the Sundre Hospital in July 2020.

In April 2020, the Rural Sustainability Group, a group made up of rural doctors, said 44 Alberta communities will be affected by the government's changes to billings for services after surveying more than 300 physicians.

A group of 25 Cochrane doctors collectively penned a letter to Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Pete Guthrie in April 2020 citing the same concerns.

The province and doctors have been working to strike a new contract; However, these actions have also fallen flat.

In April 2021, 53 per cent of doctors struck down a proposed new contract with the Alberta government.

While the proposed contract is not public, The Canadian Press obtained details indicating the document specified the collective baseline pay for doctors would remain static at about $4.6 billion a year over four years.

In response to the closure of the Cochrane Primary Care Centre, Guthrie issued a public statement.

“In the midst of a global pandemic, it is important that we, as a community, look at our services, especially to our healthcare, and to work to make it the most efficient and effective we can to that we can ensure doctors remain in our community long-term—Especially at a time when budgets, debt and deficits are troubling,” he wrote.

Guthrie promised to find ways to recruit new doctors and assured Cochranites the UCP has been working hard on several initiatives to attract doctors to smaller, rural centres.

These actions appear to be too little too late— Despite more than a year of warning signs our doctors may leave.

We now face a self-inflicted health crisis amid a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic.

Immediate action is needed to keep our communities safe and our doctors properly compensated. 

The health and well-being of Cochranites depends on it.