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City concerned with doctor numbers at hospital

Both the City of Cold Lake and the M.D. of Bonnyville are raising concerns about staffing at the hospital. In a release from the city made on Tuesday, city officials say elected officials have heard from front-line healthcare workers that the number of doctors at the Cold Lake Healthcare Centre is insufficient to run both private practices and keep the Emergency Room staffed 24 hours a day.

“Our physicians do a tremendous job of meeting our region’s healthcare needs, but they cannot keep up this workload indefinitely,” City of Cold Lake Mayor Craig Copeland said. “The Cold Lake Healthcare Centre serves a large area, and is known for its excellent health care services. It does not seem fair that they are staffed so that every time one doctor leaves, the rest see their quality of life evaporate as they pick up the slack to keep the emergency room open. Minimal staffing levels are not sustainable for a centre that serves the population the Cold Lake Healthcare Centre does.”

In 2006 and 2007, the community faced a similar crisis involving potential impacts to the emergency room service, as several doctors either retired or left the community for various reasons. Physician positions were refilled, however, the community has not been able to make progress because of the attrition rate.

The city says as of this year there are eight physicians who they say may not be able to maintain the current level of service at the emergency room.

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M.D Reeve Greg Sawchuk says that doctors are disincentivized to come to Cold Lake due to a long-standing inequity in the pay structure: A physician’s pay structure allows for them to apply a variable rate to the services rendered, based on the community from which they operate. These variable rates, also referred to as a “variable fee premium,” are assessed based on how isolated a community is from other health care supports.

While Cold Lake doctors get a 9% rate increase due to their location, Grande Prairie’s rate increase is 16.36%, Fort McMurray’s is 19.98%, and nearby Lac La Biche has a 21.40% rate increase.

“Even at the maximum approved staffing levels for physicians, we know that we will still be about four doctors short of everyone in the region being able to have a family doctor,” says Sawchuk. “The community struggles to attract doctors despite having significant community and municipal incentive programs.”

Community leaders say they have heard that if staffing levels at the hospital are not increased, the Cold Lake Healthcare Centre Emergency Room’s 24-hour, seven-days-a-week operations may be impacted.

“We are grateful for the community’s support of its hospital and physicians, but we have seen that this support is not enough,” Copeland said. “We hope that this government will be the one to step in so that the hospital in our community can meet the demand while also respecting our doctors’ health, well-being, and quality of life.”

A full release from the city is on its official website.

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