The just opened new Grande Prairie Regional hospital in Grande Prairie, Alta. is under used because of medical shortages. (Photo by Jesse Boily)Jesse Boily

Original Published on Sep 01, 2022 at 09:39

By Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Grande Prairie city council directed mayor Jackie Clayton to lead the city’s advocacy in medical retention and attraction.

Council made the move on Monday (Aug. 22).

Health care has become a key advocacy priority for the city, said mayor Clayton. She noted it’s the number one concern coming from the community.

“I don’t think that people realize what a priority and what an urgency factor there is on this now,” she said.

“We need to advocate on behalf of those people because not only are they are citizens, but they’re also taking care of our citizens,” city coun. Chris Thiessen.

Clayton says she will be reaching out to the surrounding municipalities (County of Grande Prairie, M.D. of Greenview and the Town of Sexsmith) for support as they work towards making a plan for advocacy.

Clayton said elected officials are hearing more from the public about health care shortage in the Grande Prairie region, which led to a recent meeting of different levels of government.

She said MLAs Tracy Allard and Travis Toews, County of Grande Prairie Reeve Leanne Beaupre, and M.D. of Greenview Reeve Tyler Olsen participated in a call regarding this region’s specific needs with Alberta Health Services and Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping.  

Clayton said she hears of health care professionals leaving the region and the Grande Prairie Regional Hospital being underutilized.

“This is obviously very worrisome for our region,” she said.

Clayton is confident that AHS is working towards attracting health care professionals to the area but believes more needs to be done about retention.

“This has nothing to do with people not wanting to live in Grande Prairie,” she said, “this has absolutely everything to do with health care professionals leaving Grande Prairie.”

City councillors threw in their thoughts and experiences during Monday’s council meeting.

“Last week, I was talking with a physician that recently left, and at the beginning of our meeting, he had mentioned that 15 specialists had left Grande Prairie in the previous 10 months,” said coun. Grant Berg.

 “When he was leaving his office, I actually wanted to get the facts straight, and he said actually, it’s up to 16 now  – somebody within the last hour has handed in their resignation.”

Thiessen noted that he knows people who have gone to the hospital for emergency surgery only to be told there are not enough beds.

“They have lots of beds, it’s a brand new hospital, they need staff, and they need to fix the culture fast.”

Clayton says in talks with AHS, it’s clear that work on physician attraction is being done but “we are hearing on a regular basis of health care professionals leaving our hospital.”

“We’re hearing that there needs to be a centralized model for management with accountability.”

Clayton said decisions about the region made outside of this region are less than ideal, though she concedes there are opportunities for centralization of potential procurement.  She went on to say decentralization of management decisions with an emphasis on local input and local accountability “seems to be the discussion that we’re hearing on a regular basis”.

“There also needs to be considerations for more full-time health care nurses to support the surgeons, the specialist, that are operating in our hospital.”

Berg noted the global problem of a shortage of healthcare professionals is affecting the region.

“It is a globally competitive market for these specialists,” said Berg.

He said as doctors are moving to elsewhere, and even out of the country, it’s crucial to find out why and how to best retain them.

“If we’re losing more than we’re attracting, we’re just in a net deficit.”

Clayton says meeting with Copping and AHS is just the beginning and that some things will need to be dealt with sooner than later.

“I think that there seems to be a consistency in the things that we’re hearing, and the biggest concern for council is that we don’t lose health care professionals, surgeons, specialists, etc.,” said Clayton.

“When we hear people are leaving, for nothing that has to do with the operations on a day-to-day basis of the city and more to do with operations of the organization.

“It’s very concerning.”

This item reprinted with permission from Town & Country News, Beaverlodge, Alberta