The plan to turn Cold Lake, Bonnyville and St. Paul into a regional health care hub was brought to the attention of Health Minister Sarah Hoffman last week when she toured the area.
Hoffman visited Lac La Biche on the morning of March 30, before stopping off in St. Paul and Bonnyville to tour the local health centres in the afternoon. During her whirlwind visit, local doctors and municipal politicians informed her on the formation of a regional committee and goal of working together to offer different services across the Lakeland, all within an hour's drive.
“I think it is really smart. If you can each pick pieces that you can specialize in (then you can) offer opportunities for the residents to not have to travel into Edmonton all of the time,” said Hoffman. “It is certainly something that I think should be applauded and encouraged in other parts of the province.”
City of Cold Lake Mayor Craig Copeland took the opportunity to chat with the minister during her visit to St. Paul, informing her of the region's plan.
“We're really fortunate that all the doctors in the region have stood up together. They've got a vision and that's the way it should be…they see the demand in our area,” said Copeland.
In early March representatives from Cold Lake, Bonnyville, and Elk Point gathered in St. Paul to discuss a vision for improving and expanding regional health care. The idea was pitched by Bonnyville's Dr. Hendrik van der Watt, who felt a local committee could offer regional health care experts the chance to share their successes, new ideas and work together with the goal of advancing the region's health care.
Van der Watt was one physician who had the opportunity to make a lengthy presentation to Hoffman and take her on a tour of the Bonnyville Health Centre. He focused on letting the minister know that the doctors aren't just hoping to improve the services in Bonnyville.
“We are not just trying to fend for Bonnyville, we are fending for the region and focusing on improving health care access for ourselves as well as Cold Lake and St. Paul,” said van der Watt. “We tried to get that message across. It is not just one town asking for itself, we are asking for the region and supporting the other towns in the region.”
While the minister couldn't make the trek up Highway 28 into the City of Cold Lake, she had plenty of doctors and politicians in her ear vouching for improved services for the city's hospital. The majority of those people approached the subject similar to van der Watt and told Hoffman the goal was to improve the region's access to different specialized services.
Copeland was pleased to see Hoffman take the time to come up from Edmonton into the Lakeland, feeling a visit from the province's health minister was “long overdue”. For Hoffman, she was just happy to get out of the office and get a first hand look at what the northeastern part of Alberta is doing in terms of health care.
“When we are not sitting in the Legislature all of the time, I like to get out of Edmonton,” said Hoffman. “Obviously what we do in Edmonton is important, but it is not the only important work that happens in Alberta in health care. I love being out and about and getting a chance to meet with some of the folks first hand.”