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Lack of physician coverage in rural areas among urgent needs: AMA President

A week after visiting and talking with doctors in the Grande Prairie region, the president of the Alberta Medical Association of Physicians says the provincial government’s announcement about reforming Alberta’s healthcare system is a separate concern from what he considers the immediate one at hand.

Dr. Paul Parks says the morale and burnout of doctors in family medicine and acute care is as low as ever, with what he calls a lack of funding and limited workforce playing a significant role.

“What we need to do right now is we really need to make a significant investment in what we have right now and retain the doctors we have.”

Parks says there is a strain across the board when it comes to physicians in Alberta. Still, in rural areas, he thinks there is a misconception among the public about anyone being able to practice family medicine, especially in these areas.

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“In reality, it truthfully is a specialty, and to do it in rural centres you need to be able to cover the hospitals. You need to be able to cover the nursing homes, and do a full primary care practice.”

He also argues the shortage of physicians in rural Alberta, along with numerous service interruptions at rural healthcare facilities, cause a strain on regional emergency facilities, such as the Grande Prairie Regional Hospital.

“There is a domino effect; when you have those small communities that have no access, then they have to go to the next larger sized community, that then adds a burden.”

In the past few weeks, Parks, along with other officials and members of the AMA, has travelled around the province to talk with members and hear their concerns. He says a theme he continues to hear is the need for support, whether that be adding physicians to the workforce to help deal with the strain or financial support to help family physicians pay their bills.

Parks explains that family physicians are like every other small business in the province that is dealing with inflation, and most times, two or more doctors will share a space to help cover the costs.

When it comes to Wednesday’s announcement of the creation of four new organizations that will make up the larger provincial healthcare system, Parks’ biggest concern is how these changes will be implemented to meet the needs of the system and Albertans as a whole.

“That is where we were saying the Alberta Medical Association of Physicians really needs to be at the absolute top input level of how do we operationalize and how do we solve the restructuring issues, separate from how do we restabilize the system.”

Parks says he is unsure if something is not done in the short term to fix the holes he perceives in the healthcare system.

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