Gov’t told health care system could use improvements

Communities throughout Alberta have been invited to partake in a series of “health conversations” in an attempt to find out

Communities throughout Alberta have been invited to partake in a series of “health conversations” in an attempt to find out what is working and what isn’t in health care.

The 10th one hosted by Banff-Cochrane MLA Ron Casey was held Sept. 4 at the Kinsmen Community Centre. Despite little advertising and short notice, town councillors, residents and some health care workers attended the conversation.

The main purpose of the visit was to hear people’s thoughts and concerns, explained Casey.

“There is no agenda being pushed by us, really we’re here to listen to you,” he said.

Minister of Health Fred Horne and Premier Alison Redford wanted input without Alberta Health Services (AHS), although employees of AHS are included in the discussions.

“This is very much about letting us know what is working in the community,” said Casey.

The other goal was to find out where the gaps were in the system. After hosting the conversations, Casey has found similar issues for many communities, but “certainly each community has its own challenges.”

He has found the question of clinics and their hours appear to be something people bring up in every community.

For Ponoka what he found was the need for doctors.

“Some communities like Ponoka are experiencing a shortage of doctors, some of the other communities surprisingly enough that we have talked to are OK as far as doctors go,” said Casey.

He has also found an overall satisfaction from people with health care, but he feels there is room for improvement.

“There’s just a variety of issues across the region,” he stated.

Some of those issues include volunteer firefighters being called to assist Emergency Medical Services (EMS) either on the highway or in town, which has been a cause of burnout with firefighters.

Some attendees felt part of the problem was EMS handling medical transfers from one hospital to another.

Coun. Rick Bonnett feels if medical personnel are required to stay with a patient in a hospital until the transfer is complete it takes away from their other duties.

“They have had six or seven-hour waits before they can drop of a person and go back to their station too. So they’ve changed shifts at times with their next people coming in and taking over for them because they are just transferring them,” explained Bonnett.

CAO Brad Watson feels a solution to this issue would be to have extra emergency room staff.

“Have additional medical people assigned to the emergency room, the point being they have to be there in case you go into shock,” suggested Watson.

Coun. Loanna Gulka feels people abuse the EMS system. “There’s another frustration that we see too… with our First Nations people that use the ambulance as a taxi service.”

After being transported by ambulance people will sometimes want to be dropped off downtown, she explained.

Chris Richards, program manager at the Centennial Centre, said there are times when people do need transportation after being discharged, usually from surgery.

“A lot of times when people are being discharged from a hospital and they’re going to a long-term care centre they don’t need a fully functioning ambulance, they just need a transfer vehicle,” offered Richards.

She understood AHS has transfer vehicles that don’t have the full equipment compared to an ambulance, which is usually used to transfer people.

To clarify, Casey understood when the health regions transferred over to AHS those units disappeared.

“There might be some transfer units out there but my understanding is that in most cases when the transfer took place to AHS a lot of those units were simply taken out of service.”

He has found with every meeting that transfers have been taken up hours of personnel and equipment. Sometimes those transfers are for an X-ray or a doctor appointment.

One solution Watson offered is to have more doctors in clinics. He also feels introducing a fee system might help with those who abuse the services. “A fee system, even if it’s a nominal fee system for the abusers, some of it will take care of itself. Is it going to be utopic? Absolutely not, but at least it’s moving forward to better the system.”

He also suggests looking at the private system to help with patients who are in long-term care but who cannot leave the hospital. People have referred to them as “bed blockers,” he explained.

One resident, Phyllis Visscher, feels accessibility to an after-hours clinic, rather having to go to an emergency room is something to consider.

“A less expensive way than an emergency department. I’d like to see some development there,” suggested Visscher.

Despite not being able to get more people to attend because of the short notice, Casey feels he is able to get a strong idea of what Ponoka and the other communities need. The goal is to pass on this information to all the communities to give municipalities a chance to compare issues.

Information will also go the minister to help set plans for AHS.

“The ministry’s responsibility is to set those levels of health care…Alberta Health Services’ job is to deliver that,” explained Casey.

He feels people were generally appreciative of the conversations and being listened to by him and other MLAs around the province. He also believes these discussions will help define how a clinic will work with a Primary Care Network to deliver care to patients.

“The two are going to have to be connected to the hip,” he stated.

He hopes information will go to communities in the next few months.

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