By Gillian Slade
Alta. Newspaper Group
The closing of the local maternity clinic has been delayed to find a longer term solution.
A statement released on Thursday, says a series of meetings have taken place between Alberta Health Services, Palliser Primary Care Network and physicians and the result is Medicine Hat Family Medicine Maternity Clinic will continue to see patients until at least July 2021.
FMMC physicians, AHS and PCN will continue to work together to explore options, such as location, to remain open beyond that date.
“We have heard significant concern from the community about the impact of losing this clinic,” said Dr. Gerry Prince, FMMC lead physician. “We are hopeful that this extension will allow us time to explore options that ensure a sustainable obstetric service into the future.”
Rachel Notley, leader of the NDP, called the extension an “issues management” strategy by the UCP government.
“It’s not enough,” said Notley at a press conference in Medicine Hat. “End the uncertainty around this clinic.”
Dr. Michael Auld, interim south zone medical director, said AHS will work with PCN and physicians to develop a future delivery model for obstetrical services in Medicine Hat.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro is confident they’ll be able to do that. He’s said he’s prepared to help perhaps through an alternate funding plan for the physicians if they want to look at other options, said a spokesperson for the minister.
FMMC in Medicine Hat Regional Hospital opened 17 years ago because there was a shortage of doctors doing obstetrics here and it was difficult to recruit them to this region.
PCN used to fund 80 per cent of the clinic’s expenses but due to budget constraints decided it could no longer continue to do so. AHS said it would need clinic doctors to pay rent, utilities and staff for the space in the hospital. Doctors determined it would cost more than they bill for their services. Earlier this month Prince said the clinic would no longer accept new patients after the end of October. This time frame would allow for those referred to the clinic to be covered through to delivery.
PCN has received $62 per year for each enrolled patient without an increase since 2012. It receives nothing specifically for FMMC in Medicine Hat and Brooks.
Treena Klassen, executive director PCN, said she is pleased the clinic will continue through to July and everyone would explore options to find a sustainable solution.
Notley said the fact that the PCN is no longer funding the clinic is not the real issue. It has more to do with the UCP “ripping up” its agreement with doctors.
In February, Prince first talked of the ongoing viability of the clinic being in jeopardy because of cuts to physicians’ fees. The clinic was established because it was not financially feasible for doctors to take time away from their own clinics. Changes were made to make it financially neutral so that doctors were not out of pocket.
The provincial government’s changes to doctors’ fees “removed several of those financial braces,” said Prince in February.
At that stage there were 10 physicians taking shifts at the clinic. That number is now reduced to six, Prince said recently.