Premier Jim Prentice set his sights on the health care woes of rural Alberta on Tuesday, launching a triple-stage review into health facilities and services in the province’s smallest communities.
Making the announcement alongside Health Minister Stephen Mandel in Olds on Tuesday, Prentice said he’s heard non-stop concerns from rural residents about doctor and nurse recruitment, long travel distances for treatment and a lack of consultation with rural communities on provincial health care decisions.
“The panel will review existing facilities and services in rural Alberta. It will identify the sweet spot of maximum impact that combines accessibility of facilities, medical and support staff availability and service offerings,” said Prentice, adding the review “is not about closing rural hospitals.”
Led by Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke, a former doctor himself, the panel includes Alberta Medical Association past president Dr. Allan Garbut, former East Central Health board member Bonnie Sansregret and President of the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta Shannon Spenceley.
The panel will have 90 days to report on health care in communities with less than 1,250 people before moving on to report on communities of between 1,250 and 2,500 people and then communities of 2,500 people or more.
Mandel said the review will “listen to communities”. He said the promised family health care clinics proposed by former premier Alison Redford will not be built but the province isn’t throwing out the concept of community clinics.
Critics called the review redundant as Alberta Health Services (AHS) updated their Community and Rural Health Planning Framework in Oct. 2012 and there is already a Rural Physician Action Plan funded under the Ministry of Health.
“There has been no shortage of reports, reviews and studies. We don’t need 90 days to watch more government studies gather dust on the shelf. We need action,” said Wildrose Health critic Heather Forsyth.
“It seems like a whole lot of nothing to me,” said NDP Health critic David Eggen.
“Ask anyone who tries to access rural health care and they’ll tell you that this PC government has been closing beds, downgrading hospitals and privatizing seniors centres for years. Mr. Prentice needs to make some decisive moves here because rural residents have the short end of the stick.”
Prentice said the short, 90-day timeline is intentional and the government is looking for tangible solutions that” can be implemented “without delay.”
“We’re not the kind of people who accumulate studies on shelves.”