‘Critical breaking point’: Hinton sounding alarm over health-care worker shortage

Alberta Health Service has stated that no physician will be on-site in the emergency department of the Hinton Healthcare Centre overnight from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. on June 24, 25, 26, 27 or 30, according to a Facebook post from the town on Monday.

Hinton Town Council declared a Local Health Care Crisis last week due to a shortage of health-care workers and local primary care services reaching a “critical breaking point.”

To help address the issue at the municipal level, council voted in favour of providing the Hinton Health Care Foundation (HHCF) with $1 million, spread over two payments of $500,000 over a two-year span.

This came after HHCF chairperson Garth Griffiths made the request to council, saying the funding would be used to maintain and increase access to primary health care in Hinton, including access to physicians and nurse practitioners.

“The move to declare a Local Health Care Crisis and to provide funding directly to the HHCF was not made lightly,” said Hinton Mayor Nicholas Nissen in a June 24 news release.

“Health care is outside the focus of municipal government, but it’s our job to ensure a healthy and safe community, and we can’t do that if our local health care providers aren’t supported in their service to our residents. We would not be stepping in unless it was absolutely critical.”

In addition to these recent measures, the Attraction and Retention Committee of Hinton (ARCH) is developing a community-driven approach to help attract and retain physicians and health-care workers.

These measures come as Hinton has experienced repeated shortages in health-care workers.

Alberta Health Service has stated that no physician will be on-site in the emergency department of the Hinton Healthcare Centre overnight from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. on June 24, 25, 26, 27 or 30, according to a Facebook post from the town on Monday.

Anyone in need of emergency medical support during these times should call 911 immediately.

Other notable incidents include the Hinton Healthcare Centre being unable to provide obstetrical services over a weekend in April and the emergency department closing overnight in May.

The town says the number of local doctors has gone from 15 to just eight over the past five years, with many of the remaining doctors not working full-time hours.

“Despite being a provincial responsibility, if the Town does not have good health and medical services available to its residents, there could be cascading impacts to the Town and its residents,” said Hinton CAO Jordan Panasiuk in the release.

“This problem is not unique to Hinton. We are hearing of similar shortages across Alberta. In Hinton, the number of doctors serving the community has fallen to the point of being unsustainable, and we cannot afford to have medical care disruptions that could result from this challenge.”

The $1-million commitment to the HCCF will deficit fund the Hinton Medical Clinic, with the foundation assuming a governance role in overseeing the clinic.

In the release, the town explained how the clinic “has seen a consistent decline in the number of doctors serving the community and sharing the overhead costs of operating the facility.”

Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said in a statement to the Fitzhugh that Alberta Health Services recently recruited one physician to Hinton and was actively recruiting for five more in the area.

“I appreciate the Mayor’s solution-focused approach to this issue as we work collaboratively and creatively to find solutions,” LaGrange added.

“We are working diligently to address health issues in rural Alberta to ensure Albertans are getting the care they need, when and where they need it. This includes more rural medical training opportunities, an updated physician compensation model to encourage the best and brightest to practice in Alberta and expanded scope for nurse practitioners to be able to provide primary care with government compensation.”

West Yellowhead MLA Martin Long, who also serves as Parliamentary Secretary for Rural Health, said the government is working to improve the health-care system in Alberta, which includes addressing health issues in rural communities.

“We all need to work together to find solutions, which is why Minister LaGrange and I are working closely with the community to make sure this situation is addressed,” Long said in a statement to the Fitzhugh.

“We are committed to ensuring that healthcare services, especially in rural communities, are fully accessible so that each Albertan can access them when and where they need to.”

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