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Cold Lake Continues to Struggle With Doctor Shortage

Cold Lake City Council continues to struggle with a chronic shortage of doctors as the number of people without a family physician continues to be a major concern for residents.

“Our community and the surrounding area is under continual growth,” said Mayor Craig Copeland. “Council will work with the chief of staff at Cold Lake Hospital to increase the availability of family and specialized physicians to practice at the hospital. Scheduling meetings with senior Alberta Health Services officials in the near future is a high priority for council.”

While new doctors have arrived in the city over the years, they also appear to leave in similar numbers. Based on information provided by Alberta Health Services (AHS) and Hearts for Health Care, Cold Lake has 12 practicing physicians. That’s only two more than there were in 2007, a decade of population growth later. The city has approximately 0.9 physicians per 1000 residents, less than half the Canadian average of 2.1 and close to the rate of Guatemala.

Administration gave an update to council about the status of the current doctor recruitment programs, and compared the average numbers of physicians per residents across Alberta.

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“We are well below the average number of physicians per inhabitants for rural Alberta,” said Copeland. “It was a bit shocking to see the actual numbers.”

According to the Alberta Rural Physician Action Plan (RPAP), rural Alberta had an average of 1.3 physicians per 1,000 people in 2015. To meet the rural Alberta average, the City of Cold Lake would need to have 21 practicing physicians, which is nine more than what is currently in the community.

Another portion of the RPAP listed key reasons why rural physicians decide to stay in a community. The top two factors were feeling welcome in the community and the workplace environment.

“Our city is growing, but we seem to be hitting a lot of challenges in bringing new doctors to our community,” said Copeland. “Though our meeting requests with Alberta Health Services have gone unanswered in the past, we are hopeful to meet with their officials soon.”

The Hearts for Healthcare organization also continues to push for doctor recruitment, as part of its mandate to enhance healthcare in the community. The organization has been very active, and currently offers a financial assistance incentive for medical professionals transitioning to the city, such as offering them a furnished house or apartment for three months, or a short-term car rental. Due to the organization’s charity status, Hearts for Healthcare is unable to directly offer financial assistance for a for profit businesses.

In addition to these incentives, the City of Cold Lake also offers a doctor recruitment incentive of an interest-free line of credit for two years to new physicians in the community. This line of credit can be used for a number of things, including purchasing a vehicle, renting space for a clinic, or purchasing start-up office supplies.

“This is one of our top priorities. We are going to continue to push to try and fix this issue,” said Copeland. “We will continue to request meetings to get more information, and see what we can do to bring in the physicians that we need.”

As the City of Cold Lake continues to move forward, any updates on the status of doctor recruitment will be presented at a future council meeting.

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