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Health Minister announces changes aimed at keeping rural physicians practicing

Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced changes to rural health care on Friday with goals to strengthen physician recruitment and retention.

Overhead changes announced earlier this year will be paused for urban doctors while rural doctors will be permanently exempt from any future changes.

Shandro was joined by a few MLAs during the announcement including Bonnyville – Cold Lake – St. Paul’s Dave Hanson. The Health Minister says the discussion between himself and the other members is what led to the announcement.

“They’ve shared their concerns with me about access to healthcare and sustaining rural primary care across this province and what’s more, they’ve brought forward practical and concrete solutions.”

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The $60,000 cap on the Rural and Remote Northern Program will also be immediately cancelled, a program Shandro says will now be the most generous in the country. A total of $6 million will also be used to pay for the schooling of 20 medical students over the next three years to incentivize young Albertans from rural communities to return to practice in their home towns after med school.

The announcement comes after news that doctors in Lac La Biche would voluntarily give up their access to the hospital after July along with news that the Bonnyville Health Centre may lose obstetrics ability as early as June. In the Lac La Biche case, doctors pointed the blame at the changes for billing brought forth by the UCP government. Shandro says this new announcement is a step in the right direction to change things for the better.

“Many rural physicians organize their business model around practicing in hospitals and clinics. Rural hospitals, especially their emergency departments, work differently than in cities. They depend on rural physicians for coverage and we need to maintain that coverage in Alberta.”

There are currently about 1,000 rural physicians practicing in the province.

With files from Tina Karst,

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