Now is definitely not the time to back down on Airdrie's lack of healthcare
Last week, Alberta Health Services (AHS) sent a memo to staff at the Airdrie and Cochrane’s urgent care centres that the equivalent of two full-time nurse practitioners at both clinics would lose their jobs on March 31.
Nurse practitioners, who are able to diagnose and prescribe medications, fill the gap left by a shortage of doctors. In doing so, they save taxpayers thousands of dollars and take the burden off of overworked doctors in Airdrie.
I recently had a conversation with a doctor who works out of the Airdrie clinic. Dr. Tammy McKnight said the nurse practitioners whose jobs were threatened are not just a “nice to have” but a necessity staff at the eight-bed urgent care centre can’t do without.
The news about the impending layoffs raised the ire of local politicians, healthcare staff and citizens, many of whom make up the Airdrie Regional Healthcare Committee (ARHC), formed two years ago to advocate for better services in Airdrie.
A media flurry followed and AHS staff reconsidered their decision, agreeing to meet with doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners at Airdrie’s urgent care clinic. That meeting took place on Jan. 17, and those involved must have been very persuasive, because a memo was sent out saying the decision was not yet final.
On Jan. 18, I contacted an AHS spokesperson who said the decision hadn’t been made whether or not to carry through with the layoffs and he didn’t know when there would be one.
However, Mayor Peter Brown, MLA Rob Anderson, health-care practitioners and members of the ARHC held an emergency meeting later that afternoon at City Hall to discuss what should be done.
That meeting ended with an announcement that AHS had rescinded their original decision to allow more consultation with the community before making any decisions on staffing.
The government department promised to have a review completed in 60 days.
The news was met with relief by our politicians and residents involved in the health-care committee.
Brown, who stepped up earlier in the week in defence of Airdrie’s urgent care centre, expressed optimism about the turn of events, saying, “Cooler heads prevailed.”
One of the founders of the health-care committee, Airdrie resident Michelle Bates said it isn’t likely AHS would have rescinded the decision without members of the community standing up for themselves.
AHS made the decision to lay off the nurse practitioners with no community consultation, and likely thought nothing of sending the memo on Jan. 14 informing those involved at Airdrie’s urgent care centre.
Imagine AHS staff’s surprise when reporters started calling the department asking for answers.
The following public outcry may not have been expected, but it did lead to a reversal of the decision.
I applaud all those who stood up to the AHS. Thanks to those who had the passion and knowledge to raise their voices, the Province wasn’t able to once again quietly pass our city by.
I hope in 60 days the department has a better understanding of the health-care issues in Airdrie, a city of 45,000 people with only eight beds and completely without 24-hour care. I hope AHS officials aren’t merely trying to push the decision off, hoping those outspoken individuals will back down next time.
I don’t believe members of the grassroots health-care committee will give up quietly, and I understand their passion.
As a resident, I am tired of waiting in long line-ups in Calgary hospitals, which are often overflowing, while considering the many communities in close proximity that do have hospitals, such as Strathmore, Olds and Didsbury.
While I don’t begrudge those towns their healthcare services, I do shake my head in confusion, wondering why towns of significantly smaller sizes have many more services and beds.
As Airdrie and the surrounding community grows, many hope for an announcement about a new hospital or 24-hour clinic in Airdrie, but we continue to be passed by.
The lack of 24-hour health care leaves the welfare of residents of Airdrie and the surrounding areas at risk as they are forced to drive into hospitals in Calgary or Didsbury.
Although I do understand the importance of having an efficient health-care system and watching taxpayers’ dollars in the tight fiscal climate Alberta now finds itself, there are other ways to cut expenses than clawing back the already insufficient healthcare system in Airdrie.
Perhaps AHS should think about creating efficiencies in their own administration, which seems less than competent in the wake of what happened last week.
It’s time Airdrie residents band together behind the grassroots health-care society to ensure a fair, efficient healthcare system is put in place in the city. It is time for some answers.
For more information on the health-care committee or how you might get involved, send members a message at firstname.lastname@example.org