Local health advocates relieved after AHS decision rescinded
Local officials and residents are relieved after Alberta Health Services (AHS) announced a decision, made Jan. 14, to lay off nurse practitioners at Cochrane and Airdrie urgent care centres, had been rescinded.
The announcement came Jan. 18, after a emergency meeting held at Airdrie City Hall that included MLA Rob Anderson, Airdrie healthcare practitioners, Mayor Peter Brown and citizens from Airdrie’s Regional Healthcare Committee (ARHC), a group formed about two years ago to advocate for an increased level of healthcare in Airdrie.
Michelle Bates, an Airdrie resident who helped spearhead the ARHC, expressed relief at AHS’ most recent decision.
“When I heard about it, I wanted to cry,” she said. “I am just really happy now. It means AHS isn’t overlooking Airdrie. People are willing to stand up for themselves.”
Anderson, who made the announcement about AHS’ decision, agreed.
“It’s a happy day,” he said.
The original memo announcing the layoffs was sent out by Barb Shellian, the director of Bow Valley Community and Rural Health and read as follows:
“The amount of savings required for this upcoming budget year necessitate some very strong measures to meet the targets — things we do not necessarily want to do but quite frankly need to do to meet the requirements. One of the measures that will be implemented for urgent care is the elimination of the nurse practitioner positions for Cochrane and Airdrie.”
Anderson’s Jan. 18 announcement was followed by a statement from AHS, sent out by email, which confirmed that officials from the department met with Airdrie Urgent Care Centre (AUCC) staff, Jan. 17.
At that meeting, staff provided more information about workload and other pressures facing physicians and staff at the AUCC, according to the statement.
“They are concerned, as are we, about ensuring the quality of care provided at the centre,” read the statement. “In light of what was heard and learned, we have decided to further review the staffing and clinical model in the centre.”
Through the statement, co-signed by Dr. Francois Belanger, senior vice-president and zone medical director, and Brenda Huband, senior vice-president, both representatives of the Calgary Zone, AHS committed to a review of the healthcare situation in Airdrie that will involve further discussion with the physicians and nurse practitioners as well as other urgent care centres. It is expected to be completed in 60 days.
“We recognize that a more detailed analysis of the care needs and staffing model should have been done earlier in the process, before the decision was made and announced,” read the statement. “We apologize to the physicians, nurse practitioners, staff and to the communities for the confusion.”
Anderson said the ARHC will hold AHS to its word and will use the coming review to advocate for improved healthcare access in Airdrie, which he said is sorely lacking.
“Airdrie has been overlooked for sometime and right now our needs aren’t being met,” said Anderson. “We are going to ask them to help us understand why a community of 45,000 has only eight beds.”
Mayor Peter Brown, who told media earlier in the week that he would fight the layoffs, expressed his relief about the decision.
“It’s the best decision possible,” he said. “Cutting front-line service is really hard to understand with the wait times we have. We have educated the people at AHS as to the needs in our community.”
Dr. Tammy McKnight, who works at the AUCC, said there are two nurse practitioners at both Airdrie and Cochrane. She said the front-line staff are able to diagnose, treat and prescribe medication.
When asked if the centre could do without the nurse practitioners, McKnight said, “It’s not even a question. It’s not a nice to have, it’s a necessity.”