Lethbridge residents rallied outside city hall on May 14 to show support for public healthcare and raise concerns over the province’s treatment of the current healthcare situation.
“It is not business as usual, it is absolutely a crisis in healthcare,” said Lethbridge West MLA Shannon Phillips. “They have created a crisis and chaos in the system and nowhere is that more true than here in Lethbridge where we have 40,000 plus people without a family doctor.”
Similar rallies were held in many cities across the province, including Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton on the same day. It was organized by the Alberta Federation on Labour, working in partnership with Better Way Alberta.
“We all know there is an extreme doctor shortage here and the current government is not doing anything to help that matter whatsoever,” said Krysty Thomas, president of the Lethbridge and District Labour Council in her presentation at the event. “We are losing doctors by the day and more and more families are getting stuck without having primary care and we all know that primary care is the first step to some preventative care and making sure we don’t have increased health risk down the road.”
The City of Lethbridge is working on a marketing strategy to help recruit and retain new physicians — Chris Gallaway, executive director at Friends of Medicare said this shows lack of leadership from the province.
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“The government created a problem with family doctors across Alberta,” he said. “I am glad Lethbridge is trying but we can’t leave it up to every local community across Alberta to try to figure out how to have doctors in their local region. We really need a provincial strategy.”
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Premier Jason Kenney, speaking to media at a grand opening ceremony for the Lethbridge Airport’s renovations, said Alberta Health Services is working closely with Lethbridge on the strategy and noted there was an increase of 99 physicians in Alberta in the last year.
“Disproportionately, newer doctors tend to go to the big cities and we do have strong incentives for positions to work in more rural areas but Lethbridge kind of falls in between,” he said. “It doesn’t have the same draw that some people feel for the big cities, it doesn’t have the same incentives that we have in rural areas.” He added he hopes to see more physicians setting up shop in Lethbridge in the next year. “We know that it’s very much needed.”
Alberta has seen a downward trend in new registered physicians and more doctors leaving over the past five years, according to Dr. Vesta Michelle Warren, president of the Alberta Medical Association (AMA).
“If you put the blinders on or you focus in too narrowly, you may be led to conclusions that are actually not correct,” she said.
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Phillips said Lethbridge saw a loss of 13 doctors in the last quarter of reporting.
“Nothing will fix it until they start respecting public healthcare — the people who work in it and the people who need to access it,” she said. “That is the foundational problem.”
Gallaway expressed concern over what he sees as an agenda to privatize healthcare, pointing to labs, surgeries and ophthalmology as examples.
“At every turn the UCP is choosing to privatize chunks our our public healthcare system over for profit, using our public dollars to facilitate profits for private corporations. They are claiming they are doing it to fix it but really it’s an ideological decision,” he said.