A new government report calls for a return of health districts; the same ones that were amalgamated into Alberta Health Services (AHS) seven years ago.
The report, called Rural Health Services Review, was released last week after a committee met with communities across the province to seek input on rural healthcare in Alberta. Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke was the chairperson of the committee and he suggests rural residents have been frustrated with the centralization of services.
Centralizing healthcare was intended to reduce costs and bureaucracy, but that remains doubtful considering Alberta Health Services remains one of the largest costs in the Alberta budget.
Starke said feedback that stood out was people want an “increased level of accountability and input in decision making.”
That was one reason for recommending eight to 10 health districts, while AHS will still function to make larger decisions. The cost of implementing that remains unclear.
Another area Starke heard concern was regarding Emergency Medical Services (EMS). He said rural residents are finding response times to be slow as crews get drawn into larger centres for hospital transfers.
The recommendations would require rural EMS crews discharge patients no later than one hour after arrival at the ER and not be diverted from calls outside of their region while en route to their home base. Starke says these EMS recommendations may need to be acted on immediately.
That would include developing a system of non-emergency transport within the province, which Starke says is already being used in some areas.
These initiatives come about two years after a Health Quality Council of Alberta review to consolidate EMS service delivery in the province and to create a borderless system.
Starke is unsure the challenges that will be faced when implementing points in the report, but he suggests rural communities will need to work together to provide quality healthcare. He suggests it is inefficient for two nearby communities to offer the exact same services.
“The truth of the matter is if there is a greater collaboration of more communities, a greater result can be achieved,” explained Starke.
As an example he suggests one community may have the equipment and specialists to handle orthopedic work, another could deal with obstetrics and a third could specialize in mental health. “If you try to do everything you’re going to end up doing nothing,” he opined.
Other recommendations in the report provide suggestions for sharing of specialized services, continuing care, dealing with mental health and addictions and recruitment.
Infrastructure is also discussed in the report, which recommends a full inventory of existing facilities be conducted, in consultation with communities on how those facilities should be used.
To read the report visit www.health.alberta.ca and click the Improving rural health care link.