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Why Family Care Clinics?

Posted on February 02, 2012 by Richard Einarson

It seems to me that our government often forgets that health and wellness is a continuum and that the work done in one area impacts the outcomes and challenges in another. So if you want to try and address the chain of cause and effect in the delivery of health services, find the weakest links and fix them first.

The defective links are long term care (LTC) and the lack of access to doctors and primary care.  Add more LTC facilities and you’ll free up acute care beds that reportedly cost Albertans $3,000 a day each to run.  Add more family doctors, primary care networks and a school policy that teaches healthier living and eating practices and you’ll keep the population healthier so they show up much less often in an ER in the first place.

These approaches are outlined in the Alberta Party Health Policy, as a matter of fact they are priorities number one and two.

For many, many years Albertans have been saying that we need more LTC spaces. Instead the PCs gave us Designated Assisted Living facilities (DAL). I, like so many Albertans, have personal experience of the poor quality of care in these facilities as both my father and mother-in-law are residents in one such place. The DAL model hasn’t worked but the LTC did – so why the change?

And now here we go again…

Giving credit where it is due I have to say that the PCs did a good job getting Primary Care Networks (PCNs) up and running over the past decade, even the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) likes the concept.  So why wouldn’t we build on that?  Over Christmas the PCs pulled a bait and switch and are now pushing something called Family Care Clinics.  The AMA and the public have no idea what these are but I suspect it’s a scheme to privatize the successful PCN model.

Family Care clinics are the latest in a long list of poorly thought out government promises – promises based on what seems to be little more than an attempt to be different than your opponent. Your opponent for leadership of the PC Party that is. Gary Mar liked Primary Care Networks probably because as Health minister he gave birth to the idea. An idea which has now grown to over 40 PCN’s in the province providing much needed services to thousands of Albertans.

No less than two independent studies have been done on the success and growth of PCNs. Both studies have been glowing in their praise of the new services that PCNs are providing, not only to the patient population but also to our physicians who are seriously overworked and in short supply. PCNs are solving the problems of access and physician retention and they need to be increased, not decreased.

PCNs are the future of primary care reform in Alberta; Premier Redford should accept that and work towards expanding and extending the networks.

All of the services she speaks of as part the Family Care Clinics are already being provided by PCNs, including extended hours and multi-disciplinary teams.  Is there a role for a clinic in a rural community that can’t attract a physician? Perhaps, but Ms. Redford should at least consult with the healthcare professionals before making promises.

We’ve seen far too much ministerial interference in our healthcare system and now a Premier who seems far too willing to do more of the same.  This government’s track record on the issue of healthcare is certainly not stellar. To make significant change once again based on an ill- conceived campaign promise during an internal leadership race speaks volumes on how this government is being run.

Once again, with very little consultation – not even with the AMA – the PCs are trying to introduce a new health care model. If anything we need more stability in the health system not less, so let’s stick with the primary care networks model – it works.

Two years ago, in January of 2010, the Minister’s Advisory Committee on Health led by Fred Horne submitted a report called A Foundation for Alberta’s Health System. This report was purported to present “a new focus and architecture for health care legislation” while defining “a new context for Alberta’s health system.”

The report states that Alberta needs a health system that is committed to making decisions based on “the best available evidence, with a respectful culture where health care providers are valued…” Furthermore it states that “…the voice of the patient and the broader public must be part of that decision-making process.” None of these approaches appear to have been taken as the PCs introduce yet another new idea, seemingly out of nowhere, without the consultation or public engagement that they have so recently embraced as a new way forward for them.

A question that Albertans should be asking as we move into the upcoming election is whether or not the current government will ever act on the reports that have been commissioned or if we will instead continue to see pronouncement after pronouncement rather than action.

It’s time for change. Join us and embrace a new way forward, a way based on common sense and finding common ground with the Alberta Party.

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