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Ponoka physician: Health care pressures mounting

Dr. Gregory Sawisky.

By Dr. Gregory Sawisky

Ponoka, we need to talk.

It has been a long and difficult two years, the longest of most of our lives perhaps.

Between lock downs, waves of COVID, unemployment, cancellations, and losses it has been the most challenging of times for everyone.

If you have tried to see a doctor, whether at the Battle River Clinic or the Ponoka Hospital’s emergency department you will have discovered that wait times are the longest they have ever been. Availability with some GP’s is now measured in weeks. Because of this, we are noticing that people are getting frustrated and directing that frustration to some of the people that are trying to help like our clerical staff and receptionists.

We understand your frustrations and want you to know that all these challenges are frustrating for us as well. Your local doctors and healthcare workers are doing our best to provide care to everyone in our community who needs it.

But we need to ask you for your patience during these challenging times and to please remember that we, your doctors, and medical staff, are human too.

We are working extra hours to keep the emergency department open and we are fitting in extra patients every day but there are only so many hours in a day. We are working hard to address your health care needs but there is only so much possible with the limited resources we have.

There are many reasons for these healthcare challenges. There are overcapacity issues at the Red Deer Regional Hospital regularly which then redirects patients to the Ponoka Hospital. Ambulances are tied up and sometimes none are available for many hours to take patients for tests. There has been a reduction of specialist services at times requiring rerouting patients to Edmonton or even Calgary.

Our own emergency department has seen closures when physicians are ill with no physicians available to replace them. We are seeing the highest number of patients come to the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre in that hospital’s history.

How did it come to this? How is the health care system so overwhelmed that you are being told it’s going to take three weeks to get your cholesterol pill refilled and the pandemic appears to be in its final days?

Now we are seeing all of these factors — staff burnout, staff shortages, physicians leaving due to government mismanagement, and increased demand on the system — combine together to put strain on the system.

We are pushing ourselves to be available for you in the clinic and the hospital as much as possible and I am asking everyone to take a breath and understand that we, your local healthcare workers, are doing all we can at this time. Do not get angry at us for your six hours wait in the emergency department or because your family doctor can’t see you for three weeks. Do not take your frustrations out on the staff. Please remember that the emergency department is designed to see emergencies on a priority basis and if your sore throat isn’t seen for hours it is because you are not experiencing an emergency. We are working as fast as we safely can and we will get to you.

Please know that if you are unhappy with the state of local healthcare, then please reach out to your local government official and make your voice heard. We are working hard on recruiting new physicians to our town and we need your help to make this town an inviting place for new physicians to come and work.

Dr. Gregory Sawisky is a family physcian in Ponoka.