History was made in Sylvan Lake today following an announcement made by Minister of Health, Sarah Hoffman, which stated Sylvan Lake will receive funding for upgrades to the Community Health Centre.
Currently there is a basic Alberta Health Services Community Health Centre providing limited access to lab and diagnostic imaging, mental health services, public health and home care. With the nearest hospitals being located in Red Deer, Rocky Mountain House and Rimbey – individuals in need of after hours medical care within Sylvan Lake have been forced to travel to neighbouring communities. For nearly 30 years, local physicians provided an after hours on-call service to residents. However, after the practice became unsafe and unsustainable due to rising populations – local physicians announced they would discontinue the service in June 2016.
Hoffman visited Sylvan Lake on Monday afternoon where she was joined by members of the Sylvan Lake Urgent Care Committee and members of local government including Mayor of Sylvan Lake, Sean McIntyre. Hoffman was also joined by both Dr. Brad Bahler, a Sylvan Lake physician and Dr. Ted Braun, acting vice president and medical director for Alberta Health Services Central and Southern Alberta.
Her announcement stated just over $2 million in funding will be made available to expand services at the Community Health Centre to provide additional medical care to include treatment for injuries such as stitches and basic fractures up to 16 hours a day, seven days a week. Renovations will begin this spring with improvements open early in 2018.
For nearly 30 years, physicians and residents of the town have pushed to gain access to enhanced health care. The Sylvan Lake and Area Urgent Care Committee, formed in 2011, consists of 17 members spanning from members of Town Council, RCMP, doctors, pharmacists, medical professionals, local service club members and community members. The committee to date has raised over $100,000, which is currently sitting in a trust fund. The committee allowed the cause to gain significant traction with their ultimate goal being to provide access to medical services for non life threatening issues available seven days a week, in a facility staffed by nurses and doctors with access to lab and x-ray.
“This is wonderful news for the people of Sylvan Lake and surrounding area,” said Hoffman. “For years, this community was promised increased health services by the previous government and nothing was delivered. Despite the drop in oil prices, our government has chosen to protect and strengthen patient care. Today’s announcement is a reflection of our commitment to that.”
In early 2015, the committee saw hope as they awaited a response to a Family Care Clinic proposal. As a result, they had a visit on Family Day of 2015 with the PC Minister of Health. However once the election was called and the new NDP government formed in May 2015 they were seemingly back at the beginning of their battle.
The committee first met with Minister Hoffman on Dec 14, 2015 where they presented the problems and possible solutions to health care struggles Sylvan was facing. The committee asked for support including the formation of an integrated partnership between health services agencies in the area to provide planning funds to further develop a unique health service delivery model and to provide a commitment to ongoing operational funding once the plan is reviewed and accepted.
The Urgent Care Committee was once more hopeful in the spring as the Provincial Government released Budget 2016, however it excluded funding for Sylvan Lake’s urgent care facility. The first trickle of light came in the form of a subtle comment made by Premier Rachel Notley during a trip to Red Deer in April 2016 for the Gaetz Ave. and QE2 interchange announcement. When asked about urgent care in Sylvan Lake during an open question period, Premier Notley stated the budget still had room for additional items that had not yet been determined. She added her ministers would be meeting with the community of Sylvan Lake but did not make any promises.
Another glimmer of hope for the safety of Sylvan Lake residents came in the form of an interview with Metro News reporter, Jeremy Simes, in which Health Minister Sarah Hoffman spoke on the issue of urgent care in the community.
“We hear that the people are frustrated and it’s definitely a difficult situation,” said Hoffman in the interview with Metro News. “We are listening to the concerns of the community and to the medical practitioners who we’ve been meeting with regularly and I am confident that we can work towards a solution with the community.”
“Like many communities throughout the province we hear the folks of Sylvan Lake are frustrated by promises from the previous government that had no money behind them and no plan. Our Deputy Minister of Health, Carl Amrhein will be meeting with the Town in the coming weeks and I am confident we can come up with a solution.”
Following a meeting with Carl Amrhein meeting held in June 2016 a joint task force with members from Sylvan Lake and surrounding communities and Alberta Health Services (AHS) spent the next three months finalizing a sustainable go-forward plan for after-hours urgent care. The task force included staff and physicians from AHS and the community’s Primary Care Network, members of the town’s Urgent Care Committee, and representatives of the Town of Sylvan Lake and surrounding communities.
By September 30, the task force was to present its recommended solution to provide urgent after-hours care to Minister Hoffman. She thanked Mayor McIntyre, the Urgent Care Committee, physicians in the Wolf Creek Primary Care Network and leaders from around the region for partnering with AHS and the government to find a solution for after-hours care in Sylvan Lake.
Chair of the Urgent Care Committee Susan Samson added Alberta Health Services brought in a team of experts who worked very, very closely with the committee, Town of Sylvan Lake and local physicians to compile a detailed report.
“I cannot put into words, how exciting and momentous this news is – that this government has recognized our community’s need, and reinforced its commitment to providing enhanced health services to our region,” said Samson. “This is a success story years in the making, and today’s announcement will impact us, positively, for years to come.”
Minister Hoffman stated, “By working together we now have a clear plan with a clear timeline to address the community’s health needs.”
Dr. Brad Bahler stated, “Thanks to the many organizations and individuals who worked in tireless collaboration transforming a longstanding community-centred vision into reality. The opportunity to build this type of service locally, on the foundation of our existing Primary Care Network, means taking a huge step forward towards an integrated community and citizen-centred health-care delivery model.”