Ken Drysdale, Maskwa Medical Centre chairman, speaks at the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between University of Alberta (U of A) and Northwestern Polytechnic (NWP) at the Grande Prairie Regional Hospital Health Education Centre in Grande Prairie, Alta. on Friday, April 26, 2024. The two schools are partnering to bring physician training to the Peace region. The first class of 30 students unexpected in the fall of 2025. (Photo by Jesse Boily)Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A new project hopes to revolutionize health care in northwestern Alberta by improving access to medical specialists and services.

The Maskwa Medical Centre hopes to begin constructing a 100,000-square-foot building south of the Grande Prairie Regional Hospital this fall.

“We will continue to advocate for a team-based approach with specialists to diagnose complex medical conditions right here in Grande Prairie, keeping families at home,” said Ken Drysdale, Maskwa chairman.

“Everybody knows that early intervention saves money and lives.”

He hopes to have the facility completed by 2026.

The estimated cost of the three-story building is about $35 million.

“On the third floor of this medical centre that we’re building will be a group of medical specialists or general internists that can narrow down the issues to one area of the body, and then if they need some help, they can virtually call in and reach out to other specialists and subspecialists for a second or third opinion,” said Drysdale.

He said the model centres on a team of specialists rather than a single physician treating a single patient.

On the facility’s first floor will be a teaching clinic in partnership with the University of Alberta (U of A).

Northwestern Polytechnic (NWP) and the U of A have signed a memorandum of understanding, formally uniting the institutions to bring physician training to Grande Prairie. The first class of 30 students is expected next year.

“There will be up to 10 family doctors that will be there in that teaching clinic, with medical students as well as family medicine residents,” said Brenda Hemmelgarn, U of A dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry.

She said the hope is that physicians doing their residency at the clinic will stay to serve in the surrounding communities.

“51 per cent of the people that walk into the emergency now at the GPRH should be seen in a clinic so they’ll be able to direct them across the street and take a lot of pressure off the staff at the emergency unit,” said Drysdale.

“The sooner we can get more doctors graduated out of this area and out into communities, the sooner it’s going to take the pressure off the outlying areas,” said Drysdale.

It’s believed that each physician would be able to see about 1,200 patients.

The second floor will include retail space for amenities such as a pharmacy, medical supply business, daycare for hospital staff and a restaurant.

Drysdale hopes a pedway will connect the centre with GPRH so patients and physicians can move seamlessly between the buildings.

“When someone’s released in the hospital or their loved ones are told that they’re going to be released in the afternoon and there’s something they need, whether it’s a brace or wraps or for equipment, they can call over to this facility, whether it’s the doctor or his assistant, and have them come over with a cart of supplies and sit with the family to make sure that things are understood and they know how to set stuff up and know how to keep it clean, and if there’s anything they need,” he said.

Drysdale’s drive

“We’ve all had personal experiences or have friends or relatives that have gone through a period of time where it took too long to get the proper diagnosis,” said Drysdale.

His experience came when his wife received a harrowing prognosis; she was given four to six months to live.

“She had been telling the medical specialists in the area that there was something wrong, and they didn’t pay attention to it, and so she ended up with stage four cancer.”

Drysdale couldn’t accept the prognosis and contacted the Mayo Clinic in the U.S.

There, Drysdale witnessed the power of collaboration and a team-based approach to health care, eventually contradicting his wife’s previous dire outlook.

“My wife is still here today.”

In 2017, Drysdale decided to try changing Alberta’s medical system.

“I just felt it’s time for people to quit suffering, and you need someone to advocate for you and you need someone to change the system.

“You need someone to make sure that the future generation doesn’t have to go through what we’re going through.”

In 2018, he formed Maskwa and began working to create a patient-centred healthcare system where collaborative care is accessible to everyone.

“We’re working with the current Minister of Health (Adriana LaGrange) and the Alberta government to change how that delivery is done in rural communities,” said Drysdale.

The next steps include getting permits and ensuring shovels can be in the ground this year.

Engineering costs about $1.5 million, with funds coming from the City of Grande Prairie, County of Grande Prairie and MD of Greenview.

The hope is to have the project out for bid in July.

Maskwa launched its website on May 1 and has announced a collaboration with the Northwestern Alberta Foundation (NAF) for people to make donations to the project.

“The enthusiasm and backing from our community propel us toward achieving our ambitious goal,” said Drysdale.

About $2 million has already been raised for the project.

More information can be found at, and donations can be made at

By Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 09, 2024 at 12:15

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