BOW VALLEY – As the Bow Valley area suffers from a physician shortage, the Bow Valley Primary Care Network (PCN) is hoping Canmore and Municipal District of Bighorn councils can help the organization deal with the crisis.
Dr. Kendra Barrick, president and co-chair of Bow Valley PCN, asked both councils for a staff representative to participate on a local committee with the aim of identifying retention and recruitment strategies.
“We want to form a committee with a recruitment strategy,” Barrick said at the May 3 Canmore council meeting. “We would like a qualified representative from the Town of Canmore to help guide our recruitment strategy. We need to provide a community support network.”
Since 2020, there has been a net decrease of six doctors providing regular ongoing primary care. Since February 2021, 18 doctors removed themselves from the list of doctors accepting patients.
Of those, 12 per cent left the Bow Valley and six per cent retired. The average age of a physician in the Bow Valley is 47 years old. Add in the increase of Canmore’s population by 14 per cent from 2016 to 2021, it is creating a crisis.
The loss of doctors is also hitting both long-term and new residents alike.
“They can access most emergency services, but day-to-day primary care needs, like medication refills, they have to go to Calgary most of the time or Banff,” Barrick said. “New residents don’t have a family doctor and they are at a disadvantage from the get-go.”
Asked by Canmore councillor Jeff Mah about how other communities were handling the crisis, Barrick responded Banff had formed a committee between doctors and council to target accommodation needs. As well, she said the Ontario communities of Leamington and Goderich provide day care support, support for spouses and partners, housing support and mentorship programs.
Barrick was also asked what age group the PCN was looking at recruiting.
“It is challenging for a new graduate to afford housing. Sometimes it is not the most effective unless there is already a housing option here for them,” Barrick said. “Near retirement is not the best option but someone looking for a change of pace, they might want to semi-retire here. It could be early in their career or midway in their career.”
Coun. Joanna McCallum brought up the option of restricting family doctor services to people from the area.
“I know that there are people that come from Cochrane and Calgary,” McCallum said. “Is there a need to reside here for our doctors to offer treatment?”
Barrick stated that the PCN has been looking at ways to optimize its patient panels but there are restrictions on what they can do.
“In order to optimize, we look at are they still in Alberta, are they still in Canmore? We have been looking at that,” Barrick said. “We are also confined to what the College of Physicians and Surgeons allow us to do in providing an appropriate reason for removing people from a panel.”
The option of clinics banding together and pooling resources to develop housing or rental housing was also raised by McCallum. Barrick stated the PCN had begun discussions regarding this option.
“There are starting to be mumblings of people who have suites or rooms in their house, getting into that rental discussion,” Barrick said. “There is no solid plan in place.”
Barrick also told council that the biggest issue is housing and the cost of living in the Bow Valley, which could be relieved somewhat through staff accommodations.
“It is more secure housing, options for housing. It has been looking at the family unit, three-bedroom rentals versus a one-bedroom basement,” Barrick said. “I do think that if we can have options that are affordable, that would be wonderful. If we can have a consistent option for housing, that would be the biggest issue to tackle.”
Canmore council will look at the request at its June meeting.
In her delegation with the MD of Bighorn council to discuss the same matter, Barrick said it was important to have Bighorn involved in the unprecedented situation facing the valley.
“This is not something 10 or 15 years ago we had,” she said. “I think it is imperative we have the MD involved.”
Some concern over assigning staff members was expressed by council, especially after coming out of the difficulties created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are asking [staff] to take on extra responsibilities. Coming out of COVID, I can tell you they are extremely busy,” Coun. Rick Tuza said.
Reeve Lisa Rosvold, who stated her own family doctor left the Bow Valley, asked about what commitment was needed. She was told, based on the Banff committee, it would be a meeting once every two to four weeks.
Barrick would add that the real issue wasn’t affordability but availability of housing.
“Just having secure housing, or options for housing,” she said.
Council advised that they would look at options for a council member or staff member to sit on a committee going forward.
“I think it is a discussion we will have to have as council, and then get back to you guys,” Rosvold said.