Community members from the Town of Picture Butte and the surrounding area filled the Picture Butte Community Hall Wednesday night to participate in the Alberta Health Services Engagement Session about the closure of the Piyami Health Centre Ambulatory Clinic.
One of the questions residents continued to bring up was what access they would have to health care once the clinic closes on October 15th if their family doctor is completely booked. Many residents shared that if they had a sprained ankle or a fracture, they didn’t want to drive into Lethbridge and be stuck in the Chinook Regional Hospital waiting room for something minor. AHS officials could not address these specific examples and concerns during the meeting. Still, they were able to share their plans to open a new after-hours clinic in the community in 2024, which would, in some ways, replace the current facility.
Town of Picture Butte Mayor Kathy Moore says she understands the fear and concerns community members have when it comes to the community being without their “urgent care” facility, but what she took away from the discussion is that AHS is working to bring in not only a new model but also doctors to help fill the gap.
“I’m happy about it because we will have doctors in the community Monday through Friday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and [3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday]. AHS will be running [the facility], so the ownness is on them; we will have doctors, possibly nurse practitioners.”
Moore says while there will be a gap in coverage between the time the current ambulatory clinic closes in October and when AHS has said the new after-hours clinic will open in 2024, she expects the change in the long run to be a positive for the community.
“The doctors who do come in, hopefully, they like what they see within the town of Picture Butte, and they will want to become permanent fixtures within the town, and that will become part of our doctor recruitment.”
Thomas Mountain Senior Operating Officer for Alberta Health Services says the idea isn’t to close the clinic but to change how it operates and improve the service offered to patients.
“Within Alberta Health Services, it’s a really big goal for us to try to accommodate that and meet that need, and we absolutely heard here tonight that they want healthcare close to home, and they want the services they need.”
Mountains says moving forward, it will be important to build the model of the new after-hours clinic, which is expected to be like the one in the Town of Coaldale, and start recruiting people who will work out of the facility and introduce them to the community.
“As we shift to an Alberta Health Services Operated Program, it is going to largely be related to recruiting staff and recruiting physicians,” Mountain says. “So hiring regulated nurses, LPNs looking at the model of care that could include family physicians ideally would include family physicians, but could also include nurse practitioners and physician assistance.”
Mountains says two different kinds are in play when it comes to physician recruitment, the first being the recruitment for the after-hours clinic; AHS will work with their network of physicians to see who is looking for additional practice and share this opportunity with them. The second type of physician recruitment at play for the community is a combined effort between AHS and Community Primary Care, which seeks to recruit family practice physicians. Mountain adds the hope and idea with the new after-hours model will help create succession planning for the community.
“It will create some sustainability, that we have a bit of venerability with right now because of the model we have. There are many moving parts to make this work.”
The current ambulatory clinic model in the community, Mountain adds, is an anomaly in Alberta, as it is currently run by one of the family practice physicians who practices in Picture Butte and not by AHS. According to AHS officials, with the provincial health provider taking over the clinic care, it will also help them better understand the needs of the community and move forward from there.