A Chestermere physician is closing down her practice over concerns of how the provincial government is changing the healthcare system.
"Our family practice is closing because we consider the government changes out of line with the values of free and accessible healthcare in Alberta," Dr. Nelini Reddy of Reflections Medical Clinic said. "If it were not for the way physicians have been, and continue to be, treated by the current government, we would not be closing."
Although Reddy and Dr. Heather Gooden will be closing their practices at Reflections Medical Clinic Oct. 26, Dr. Olga Stankova will remain and continue to see patients at the clinic.
Among the government’s changes is Bill 21. Passed last fall, the bill gave the Province the power to unilaterally break existing contracts with Alberta doctors and allow the government not to honour the terms of any future agreements.
"What [the government is] saying is we can break that contract anytime without recourse," Reddy said. "As far as I know in Alberta, that's always been illegal. Whether you have a verbal or written contract with anyone, that is binding."
As the sole breadwinner of her family, Renny said this leaves her with little job security and protection.
"At the same time, [the government] will enter into contracts with corporations, and that will be unbreakable," she said. "That just lights up the way for privatization in Alberta and essentially gives all the rights to the corporations and none to the physicians."
Reddy also has misgivings over Bill 24, the Pandemic Response Statutes Amendment Act. She claims it allows some of the COVID-19 rules and restrictions to remain in place, even after the province's state of public emergency ended June 15.
Although she agrees public health protocols need to be in place and everyone must work "together toward the common good," she worries the bill gives government the authority to relocate physicians even when the province is not in a state of emergency.
"If [the government] says this random area "X" needs a doctor, and I have an established clinic here, I can basically be moved to an area of need, even though my family, my work, my livelihood is established somewhere else," she said.
But it's Bill 30, the Health Statutes Amendment Act, that Reddy worries most is a direct threat to Alberta's public healthcare system.
The bill, passed on July 29, will reduce approval times for private clinics to do surgeries, allow private companies to take over the administrative duties of clinics, increase government-appointed public members to regulatory college councils, and enable the government to make contracts with organizations to operate medical clinics.
The government of Alberta website, alberta.ca/improving-public-health-care.aspx, states Bill 30 will modernize the system, improve accountability, and strengthen the role of Albertans in the healthcare system.
“We are ensuring the legislation governing our health system reflects our modern reality, and enables future innovation,” said Tyler Shandro, Minister of Health in a July 6 press release. “The proposed amendments will ensure patients’ voices are included in the healthcare system, help reduce surgical wait times and clarify roles and accountabilities of health system partners.”
Dr. Lorian Hardcastle, an associate professor at the University of Calgary's Cumming School of Medicine, said she has various concerns about the bill, specifically the shifting of approximately 30 per cent of surgeries to the private sector.
Another concern, according to Hardcastle, is wait times. The government's argument that shifting surgeries toward the private sector will reduce wait times in the public system is flawed, she claimed.
With only a finite number of physicians in Alberta, some doctors will redirect their hours to the private facilities, she added. These facilities tend to focus on less complex cases, which could result in sicker patients waiting longer in the public system.
"Imagine an otherwise healthy 55-year-old needs a hip replacement, the private clinic might want to do that," she said. "But imagine a woman who's 90 years old, has severe dementia and a significant risk of complications like stroke.
“People like that could end up waiting longer in the public system for treatment because doctors are spending more time in these private facilities.”
Reddy added the bill "sets the stage" for the corporatization of healthcare.
"If you're putting the healthcare system in the hands of corporations who only have the bottom line in sight, it's a huge danger to healthcare delivery in this province," she said.
Reddy and Hardcastle are not the only physicians upset by the bills. A survey by the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) distributed to 1,470 Alberta physicians between June 24 and July 3 found 42 per cent of respondents are considering leaving the province because of the new funding framework.
The province has already lost doctors over the new bills, Hardcastle said.
"The more doctors who leave, the harder it is for those who remain to reabsorb those patients," she said. "When we're talking about a smaller town, there may be nobody, and the alternative is to travel to seek medical care."
Prior to the passing of Bill 30 came an AMA referendum that surveyed 8,934 physicians, residents and medical students. The survey results, which can be found at https://www.albertadoctors.org/ under the new and latest updates, revealed 98 per cent of respondents do not have confidence in Shandro.
“We will be reaching out to Premier Jason Kenney and seeking his leadership and support in restoring a meaningful dialogue between physicians and the Minister," AMA President Christine Molnar said in a written statement regarding the results.
Premier Jason Kenney said during a July 29 press conference that Shandro has his full support.
“I think Minister Shandro’s done a fantastic job of getting us through the COVID crisis, while also addressing huge challenges that we were elected to address,” he said.
“Our government is accountable, not to 10,800 people who belong to an interest group, [but to] 4.4 million Albertans who elected us with the largest democratic mandate in Alberta history just over a year ago. One element of that mandate was to get to a balanced budget by stopping massive increases in spending.”
According to Statistica.com, at $5,187 per person, Alberta spends the second most on health care among the 10 provinces, behind only Newfoundland and Labrador.
Kenney added that, according to the Canadian Institute of health information, Alberta physicians receive 20 per cent more “than the average across Canada.”
“We respect our physicians, who are a key element of our health-care system,” he said. “We respect them so much that we compensate them more generously than physicians in any other Canadian province.”
Shandro’s press secretary Steve Buick did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.
Reddy said she feels physicians are "saying their piece" to make the public aware of the issues affecting the medical sector.
"We are speaking up for what we believe is a fantastic medical system...where we are able to give our population health care equally across the board," she said.