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Long-term health care funding should come from province: Isley

The provincial government is encouraging the Town to seek "other sources" of long-term funding for a nurse practitioner position after declining to reimburse the Town $155,000 it paid for the position.
Minister of Health and Wellness meets with locals on a tour of Bonnyville’s health facilities on May 7. In the foreground is Mayor Ernie Isley.
Minister of Health and Wellness meets with locals on a tour of Bonnyville’s health facilities on May 7. In the foreground is Mayor Ernie Isley.

The provincial government is encouraging the Town to seek "other sources" of long-term funding for a nurse practitioner position after declining to reimburse the Town $155,000 it paid for the position.

Mayor Ernie Isley received a response from Minister of Health and Wellness Gene Zwozdesky Oct. 15, over 100 days after sending a letter to the ministry.

Town council discussed the absence of a response at its Sept. 28 meeting, which MLA for Bonnyville-Cold Lake Genia Leskiw attended. She said she would bring the topic to the government's attention.

Isley wrote the minister June 29 asking Zwozdesky to provide funds for the position after the Town's first year of funding the nurse practitioner position, but added that his preference would include full reimbursement for fundng the Town provided.

In his response, the minister apologized for the inadvertent delay and recognized the "valuable contribution that nurse practitioners make to primary health care in Alberta."

He said the ministry is committed to increase opportunities for nurse practitioners to practice primary health care in the province, but did not make a funding commitment.

In addition to not committing to fund the position on a go-forward basis, the minister did not respond to Isley's request for reimbursement for the $155,000 already paid.

"Alberta Health and Wellness continues to look at possible models for nurse practitioners to work in primary health care," the letter reads.

Zwozdesky encouraged Isley to continue working with Alberta Health Services (AHS) and the Bonnyville/Aspen Primary Care Network (PCN) to find "other possible sources of long-term funding."

Isley said he didn't know what sources of funding other than the provincial government could be found for the position.

"I was not at all impressed," said Isley in a phone interview last week.

"The only sources of long-term funding for health care should be the provincial government dollars... I think it was a really poorly concocted letter that really didn't solve anyone's problem."

He said if the government is serious about working nurse practitioners into the system, it should be moving on it. Isley also said local taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for a provincial responsibility.

"It's a very, very simple decision. I was there (in government) once upon a time, I know how those decisions can be made."

The part of the letter that mentions "other" sources of funding, "is meant to encourage the PCN and AHS to continue to think in terms of suggesting innovative solutions to funding challenges in this way," said Howard May, a spokesman for Alberta Health and Wellness, in an e-mail response.

"PCNs are a partnership between physicians and Alberta Heath Services. One of their strengths is the way

they foster creativity in providing a wide variety of services to meet the specific needs of patients in that area, and also in the way they are free to realign or reassign funding in such a way as to maximize resources as much as possible.

"For example, AHS may have some resources available (expertise, training materials, or other examples) that they can offer to the PCN."

The Town may consider funding the position another year, but has not yet made a decision.

"It was a matter of trying to find money to keep (the nurse practitioner) and the Town graciously stepped forward," said Dr. Guy Lamoureux, chief of staff for the Bonnyville Health Centre, in a phone interview last month.

He also said if the PCN funding model does not change within two years, it would be forced to lay off nurses. The PCN wouldn't currently be able to fund the nurse practitioner position under the current funding model, he said.