December 3, 2023

Pincher Creek’s chief doctor wants to hear from you at Friday’s town hall forum on rural health care.

The forum, to be hosted at Pincher Creek’s Vertical Church, is your chance to put tough questions to the local doctors and University of Calgary panelists hosting the event.

For all their expertise, they “don’t know what they don’t know,” according to Dr. Gavin Parker, ER chief at Pincher Creek Health Centre and lead physician at the attached medical clinic.

“This is an opportunity for your voice to be heard by policy makers. You’ll get to speak to the dean of the medical school that trains half the physicians in Alberta,” Parker told Shootin’ the Breeze.

Look at the state of things

Rural health care is in crisis, Parker said.

There are a handful of doctors at the health centre, heading into this spring’s election. There were around a dozen 10 years ago.

The shortage is already hitting home and it’s hitting hardest those who rely on the system the most: the sick, the elderly, and especially women.

Dr. Jared Van Bussel, the centre’s only obstetrical surgeon, has said he lacks the resources to perform routine deliveries and C-sections after May 31.

His story, first reported by the Breeze, can be summed up in a few lines from his February opinion piece, Alberta Hates Rural Maternity Care.

“Rural care appears to be disappearing across the country. What is clear to me, is that when there is a question on whether to support rural maternity care, [voters] always decide against,” he wrote.

If he sounded jaded, Van Bussel explained that he’s been working at the centre or on-call 24-7 for the past five years, outside of scheduled vacations.

When it comes to rural health care, Parker says sustainability demands durability.

“We need to recognize that this goes well beyond physicians. [Friday’s] discussion has to touch on nurses and X-ray techs and a host of other medical professionals —we need healthy health-care teams.”

And without strong, continued support from the province, Parker said the health centre would struggle to care for 10,000 people across the region.

South zone hospitals with thriving surgical and obstetrical programs tend to thrive.

“Those that don’t, don’t,” he warned.

The way forward

Saving rural health care will take time, and it has to be a community effort.

“It took a long time to get into this mess and it will take us a long time to get out of it,” Parker said, reiterating that collective wisdom and lived experience are every bit as relevant as a degree in public health policy.

“None of us are as smart as all of us,” he said.

The stakes couldn’t be any higher, and the status quo isn’t working, he went on.

“When people live in an area that traditionally supports the people that represent them, people are taken for granted.”

Everyone is welcome to attend the forum at Vertical Church, 1200 Ken Thornton Blvd., from 7 to 8 p.m., Friday, April 28. Admission is free.

Parker and his U of C guests will be joined by Dr. Kristy Penner, who practises medicine in Crowsnest Pass.

Laurie Tritschler, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin’ the Breeze


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