AHBC presents plans for community healthcare

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The group hoping to build a health park and bring co-operative healthcare to Airdrie presented an outline of its plans to City council Oct. 3. The Airdrie and Area Health Benefits Co-operative (AHBC) also requested funding of $400,000 over two years from council to allow it to move forward with its plans.

According to Dr. Julian Kyne, a local family physician and member of AHBC, 25 of Airdrie’s doctors, including specialists and family physicians, have signed letters of commitment and offered their assistance to help make the health co-operative a reality.

Kyne said the doctors were invited to two nights of meetings with the AHBC the last week of September, at which plans for a health co-operative and health park were outlined.

“Part of the reason for the doctors’ excitement is part of what’s being proposed is a far more advanced, comprehensive and efficient approach to health that requires us – that’s the community – to be in the driver’s seat,” Kyne said.

There are approximately 78 health co-ops across Canada with the majority in Quebec.

Kyne said a co-op in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. has 70,000 members with 80 physicians and more than 150 other health practitioners providing healthcare. The co-op owns its own facilities and is being studied by various levels of government who want to look at the innovations taking place.

“What we propose to do is to take the best from all of these and put our own stamp on it,” Kyne said.

The AHBC would provide healthcare to seniors as well as primary and proactive healthcare and emergent/urgent care. Mental health, secondary health such as physiotherapy and acupuncture, as well as dentistry and eyecare would all be offered through the health co-op and membership would be free.

Myles Hamilton, a member of AHBC, said the group had adopted the slogan “own your own health.”

“A healthy community is a resilient community. It builds partnerships in the community…it’s certainly positive for the economy,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be great to be the best place and the best city in this country to age and live, in your retirement.”

AHBC has long contended it will take a “made in Airdrie” solution to bring adequate healthcare to the city.

“We’re not on the (Province’s) capital investment list until 2035,” Hamilton said. “But we can’t wait until 2035 to do something different. We need to move healthcare forward on our own path.”

AHBC originally asked the Province to donate approximately 12 acres of the current Alberta Agriculture office site on East Lake Ramp. According to Peter Fenwick, one of two consultants hired by the AHBC, Alberta Health informed the group in August it would not be able to use that land for the proposed health park.

Hamilton, whose family donated 10 acres of land in Airdrie’s northeast to the Airdrie Health Foundation (AHF) in 2015, said building the health park on that land could be possible because the family is prepared to donate a further 10 acres. The land could also be sold to partially fund building on another site.

AHBC outlined a plan to council, which includes forming a Community Steering Committee, formally incorporating the Airdrie Health Co-operative and developing a funding plan.

To continue its work, AHBC asked council to approve $100,000 in funding in 2016 and a further $300,000 in 2017 to move the project along.

According to Hamilton and Kyne, that funding would be used to hire a chief executive officer – a search for the right individual could begin as early as Oct. 4 – develop a fundraising package and start the design work, and pay lawyers’ and consultants’ fees. All levels of government will be approached for funding and Alberta Health Services (AHS) will be asked to be a partner with the co-op.

Councillor Fred Burley asked what the Province’s response had been to the proposed health co-op.

“If we develop something and we prove it’s something useful and helpful, they will join in,” Kyne said. “The deputy minister of health was very clear with us, saying, ‘Look, if you guys are looking towards innovating, that’s going to get our interest. Your job is really to push ahead and we’re going to try to catch up. You’re going to have to pull us along.’”

Council unanimously approved pushing the 2017 funding request to the Council Budget Committee for consideration and expediting the 2016 request.

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