Another week, another news release to local media about service disruptions in local hospitals. The new week began with an alert from Alberta Health Services saying that three overnight shifts at the emergency department in Lac La Biche's W. J. Cadzow hospital would be affected by a lack of physician coverage.
No docs available overnight Monday, Wednesday and Friday, so far this week. It's to a point where rural residents are surprised if there is no weekly disruption.
For more than two years, the news releases have been sent out to media from AHS — Disruptions in Cold Lake, St. Paul, Lac La Biche ... across the region. Service levels are constantly being stretched and strained by the lack of rural physicians.
But it's not just the service levels that are being affected in rural centres. The security and confidence of rural residents is also being strained. People move to rural communities — or remain to raise their families — because of the amenities offered without the pack mentality of larger centres. Rural residents are OK with giving up a little bit of choice or selection in return for a feeling they are getting more personalized care and attention — not just from their healthcare system, but in their grocery stores, schools and even their churches. Smalltown life has so many benefits. But as rural Alberta residents are learning, some of those benefits are precariously balanced, and are very-much affected by decisions made in the middle of those larger centres that residents were happy to be living away from
News reports show that doctors and provincial politicians are in a near-constant battle over funding. Provincial politicians, in turn, say their federal counter-parts are making matters worse. As the escalation and blame-calling goes further and further up the chain, those at the bottom are left to worry about the safety and security they once saw as a foundation of their rural life.
Rural doctors are part of those communities. These disruptions aren't easy for them either. Nurses and the thousands of other healthcare staff in rural locations across the province are also feeling the front-line stresses and strains in the system.
While there are recruitment committees, increased incentives, international training provisions and a wide-range of focus going into this worsening issue, a hint to just how well those efforts are working can be found in the regular news releases from AHS that are now little more than cut-and-paste updates.
"Due to the inability to secure physician coverage ... (insert community or health centre here) ..." is line one, then remind residents it's a "temporary" disruption in line three, take out the previous disruption times from the last notice and add in the new times in the second paragraph of the current on, and then in paragraph three, open with: "Nursing staff will remain on-site in the emergency department ..." Thank goodness for the nurses.
At the end of each notice, AHS is quick to thank the public for their "patience and understanding" before cutting and pasting their "current focus" that is "on reducing emergency department wait-times, improving EMS response times, increasing access to surgeries, and improving patient flow."
Again, and not to dwell on the growing feeling that urban life is getting all the attention - but even if a lot of work isn't really going into these news releases, shouldn't "finding doctors in rural Alberta" at least be pasted into the next one as a focus — just to let rural residents feel included?